Two posts ago in this series, I talked about the chances of a blue wave occurring in the 2018 midterms. While one is certainly possible in the House of Representatives (and in governor’s races and in state legislatures), this is likely a bad year for Democrats in the Senate. Also, there are two things that would preclude a blue wave from happening at any level: the missteps of the Democratic Party’s leadership and Republican cheating.
In the previous post in this series, I went into detail about how the Democratic leadership harmed its own chances to at least take over one house of Congress. In this post, I will discuss how Republican cheating will hurt Democrats and voters.
One bit of good news we have moving forward is the demise of Trump’s voter suppression panel. In January 2018, President Donald Trump announced that he was dissolving the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, the advisory council he founded based on the claim that immigrants illegally voted in 2016. The commission was headed by Kris Kobach and nominally chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, but it only met twice, in July and September 2017.
The bad news is that there are so many cases of voter suppression in states controlled, at least in part, by Republicans. At least two of those states have elections officials running for governor.
Before I go into detail about those cases, I would like to talk about the hurdles awaiting Democratic candidates. Some are familiar, but some efforts to suppress the vote are relatively new and were enabled by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision.
What We’re Dealing With
I have talked about voter suppression before. In one post, I talked about 12 ways that voters are disenfranchised, and their choices were limited by the two-party system. In this section, I want to talk about three problems that especially pertain to these midterms.
Many red states have the problem of gerrymandering, even in states where registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans. This is especially glaring in Wisconsin, where more people voted for Democratic candidates in 2016, yet more Republicans hold seats in the state and represent the state in Congress.
One case that got the most attention was in Pennsylvania, where the state Supreme Court ordered for a new electoral map to be created. Before the new maps were drawn, the 7th Congressional District was the most comical in appearance because it was described as an image of “Goofy kicking Donald [Duck].”
Now, let’s get serious for a moment because here’s the deal: Democrats will need to win as many seats across the country, but’s talking about state houses and governorships. They might not get back the gubernatorial advantage from Republicans, but Democrats need to win as many swing states as possible. That’s because the census will talk place in 2020, after which state most legislatures will draw up new congressional maps, which must be approved by each governor.
We know Trump will politicize this process. He has threatened to introduce a citizenship question to the Census and he will likely use the Census Bureau to undercount certain groups (minorities). This is bad because marginalized groups will then have even less representation in Congress.
Voter ID Laws
Voter ID Laws have been passed in red states. In those states, the governors will argue that they’re trying to eliminate instances of voter fraud (although that problem is relatively minuscule), but the object of these laws is to limit the number of Democratic voters who can participate in elections. These laws disproportionally affect the elderly, people of color, and poorer people, as well as college students.
Wisconsin passed a voter ID law in 2011 that was set to take effect the following year. In addition to that law, Gov. Scott Walker introduced a plan to expand DMV hours while closing down 10 DMV locations. Here’s the catch: The 10 DMV locations being closed were in Democratic areas and Republican areas would have the expanded hours.
In Alabama, about 92% of the state’s DMV offices were closed due to slashes in funding to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA). The state had already introduced a voter ID law and this development would negatively impact poorer Alabamans and cut into the state’s already low voting rates.
Another tactic that’s gaining steam across that country is voter purging.
Voter purging has happened in states for years, but often for valid reasons. States should cull names from rolls in cases where the people listed are ineligible to vote, they’ve moved out of the state, or died. However, in many cases, this process has been abused to disenfranchise voters. In states controlled by Republicans, most of this occurs with the help of “exact-matching” programs and postcard schemes.
With exact-match programs, state elections officials run voters’ names throw a computer and see if there are duplicate names. In many cases, there are false positives, because there are many individuals with the same first and last names, like James Brown. Often, people are color are affected and their names are then removed from voter rolls.
With postcard schemes, state elections officials send notifications to certain addresses. When nothing is returned, the elections officials act as if the recipients moved away and their names are those removed from voter rolls. This affects people of color more often because they are targeted more often, and they are less likely than white folks to read such mail.
The Closing of Polling Places Around the Country
Since 2012, around 1,000 polling places have been closed around the country. Most of those polling places were in red states and most of the people affected were people of color and groups more likely to vote Democrat.
This places a heavy burden on voters because they will have to travel farther in order to vote in person. Also, they will be less likely to vote because of long lines. This was highlighted in states like Arizona in 2016 (namely in AZ’s Maricopa County). Arizona was one of 16 states that were watched closely due to historic cases of voter suppression, but between 2012 and 2016, it closed down 140 polling places. (Texas led the way with 403 closures.)
How Much of This Was Enabled by the Supreme Court
In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Shelby County, Alabama in the case known as Shelby v. Holder. In that case, the 5-4 (Republican) majority gutted the Voting Rights Act by striking down Sections 4 and 5. Section 5 of the act prohibited certain districts from making changes without the approval of the Justice Department and Section 4(b) defined the type of districts that would be under increased scrutiny.
Without these sections in effect, states were free to make as many changes as they wanted — to limit the ability of voters that elections officials knew wouldn’t vote for their party. In many cases, people of color and people in poorer areas suffered the brunt of those changes, which justified the existence of Sections 4 and 5.
Voter Suppression Across the States
Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, states controlled by Republicans have gone on a tear to disenfranchise voters. They were already at it, but with the law being weakened, the GOP has ramped up its efforts to historic levels. Republicans have used things like gerrymandering (and Redmap) to keep many seats over the years, but now they have things like Interstate Crosscheck to help them purge voter rolls. Investigative journalist Greg Palast has been reporting about Crosscheck since 2016 and I will be borrowing most of my information about various states in this section from Palast.
So far, at least 10 states (almost all of which are controlled by Republican governors, but there are quite a few Republicans secretaries of state) have gotten into the act of disenfranchising voters, but there are definitely more states involved. Here’s a list of the worst offenders in this election cycle:
- North Dakota
If I find any more outstanding reports, I will update this section.
Greg Palast and John Brakey, a voting rights expert, discovered that 258,000 people were purged from Arizona’s voter rolls in 2016 and 2017. However, they were only able to find that out after they sued the state’s Republican secretary of state for the records. As a precaution for 2018, Palast created a post to ask if any more voters were being purged from the rolls and to tell them what to do if they were.
By mid-October, Greg Palast’s investigative team found out that 769,436 voters were purged from Colorado’s voter rolls. However, unlike other states, there was no way to verify whose voter registrations had been canceled. In this case, Colorado’s secretary of state, Wayne W. Williams (a Republican), refused to release the addresses of the voters who were affected, in a clear violation of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) of 1993. As a result, Palast’s lawyers threatened to sue the secretary of state if he didn’t comply in 90 days.
Palast wrote a post about this situation because time was of the essence; the deadline for Colorado’s online registration and mail-in ballots was October 29. However, Colorado voters do have the benefit of same-day registration on Election Day.
During this election cycle, it looks like the state of Georgia is ground zero for election fraud. The governor’s race features activist Stacey Abrams (a Democrat) and Brian Kemp, a Republican who happens to be the secretary of state. This race has garnered excitement among Democrats and progressives because Abrams, who created a nonprofit to help Black folks in the state register to vote, has the chance to become the first Black governor of Georgia and the Black female governor in the nation. However, since Kemp is Georgia’s secretary of state, he will oversee the election, and he has been very busy trying to throw a wrench in Abrams’ plans.
Kemp Blocked the Registrations of Over 53,000 Voters
On Tuesday, October 9, 2018, news came out that Kemp’s office was blocking over 53,000 voter registration applications. About 70% of those applications came from block Georgians. This is a problem because that Tuesday was the deadline for voters to register.
This is nothing new from Kemp or the Georgia GOP. Since 2012, Kemp’s office has canceled over 1.4 million voter applications, 670,000 of them in 2017 alone.
Kemp eventually lost on this front, because a judge ruled that most of the 53,000 voters’ registrations were illegally being blocked.
Dozens of Older Black Voters Blocked from Voting
In mid-October, a group of about 40 Black seniors was being blocked from boarding a bus that was taking them to a polling place in Jefferson County. The seniors were going to take advantage of early voting in an event organized by Black Votes Matter and Diane Evans, the chairwoman of the County Democratic Party. The seniors were staying at a senior center, but they were stopped after a county clerk alerted the center to what was going on.
Palast Sued Kemp for Purging over 340,000 Voters
On the morning of October 19, 2018, Greg Palast and Helen Butler sued Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Georgia Atlanta Division on the grounds of Kemp violating the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. Palast showed the related documents on his website, including an analysis of 748,996 names that were canceled by the secretary of state from 2016 to 2017.
Of those names:
- Exactly 83,319 names were canceled in 2016.
- Exactly 665,677 names were canceled in 2017.
- Exactly 534,584 of those names from 2017 were “system cancels.”
- Out of the system cancels, 534,510 were flagged for removal because of no activity in two voting cycles.
Palast and Mirer Mazzocchi & Julien (a firm) decided that the system cancels needed more analysis, so they took the lists they retrieved to CohereOne, which was able to reformat the addresses of 458,556 of those records. After the analysis was complete, CohereOne determined that 340,134 voters were illegally purged from the voter rolls. None of those names met any condition to be removed, which include death, felony convictions, or relocation. Only 19,118 names from the 458,556 were determined to be of deceased Georgians.
Leaked Recording of Brian Kemp
On October 19, Kemp attended a “Georgia Professionals for Kemp” event near Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood. An attended recorded some of the event and caught some troubling statements made by Kemp. One of the things Kemp said was that he was troubled by the number of people taking advantage of early voting and Stacey Abrams’ campaign’s efforts to get out the vote among the members of her base. Kemp also said that Abrams’ campaign was “suppressing the vote” by sending negative mailers about Kemp to Republican voters.
Judge Blocks Georgia’s Election Officials from Getting Rid of Ballots Without Due Process
On October 24, 2018, the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted news that ta judged blocked Georgia elections officials from discarding certain ballots. The ACLU explained why the judge’s decision was so important.
Kemp Investigates State Democratic Party
On Sunday, November 4, 2018, Kemp’s office announced that it was launching an investigation into the state Democratic Party, listing unspecified cyber crimes. Since the announcement was made two days before Election Day, it looked incredibly desperate. It should be noted that Kemp was the only secretary of state to reject assistance from the Department of Homeland Security in 2016.
Greg Palast wrote a post to inform voters in Illinois that 550,000 people were purged from the state’s voter rolls. Palast and Rev. Jesse Jackson obtained the list of purged voters after a formal complaint and the two gave notice of a federal lawsuit. (The registration deadline in IL was October 21.)
A team working with the Palast Investigative Fund found that since Indiana adopted the Interstate Crosscheck program in 2016, 469,000 voters had been purged from the state’s rolls. Of those, 27,000 voters had their registrations revoked due to a 2017 law that forced counties to remove names that appeared on Crosscheck searches. Of those 27,000, only 7,000 had moved out of the state, so 20,000 voters had their names illegally taken off the rolls.
Additionally, Indiana was in violation of a court order that barred Indiana from using Crosscheck. The court order was the result of the case brought against the state by the NAACP and the League of Women Voters. Both groups cited Greg Palast’s 2016 report in Rolling Stone about Crosscheck, the program created by Kansas Secretary of State.
Note: Indiana is only one out of 26 states that have been warned of an impending suit by the Palast Investigative Fund.
Kansas is another state with serious voter suppression, especially because Kris Kobach serves as the secretary of state. Kobach is notorious to political junkies because he is the creator of Interstate Crosscheck, the leading voter purge tool used by Republican-led states. Also, Kobach first gained national attention as the head of Donald Trump’s now-defunct “voter fraud” commission, but before that, political junkies may have first heard of him in 2016 as the creator of Crosscheck. Interstate Crosscheck is a system. Since Kobach is Kansas’ secretary of state, he will oversee the elections there, but there is legitimate cause for concern.
Kobach in the Primaries
Just this spring, there were issues in the Republican primary. Kobach was leading in all counties except Johnson county, where his opponent closed the gap until there were errors with the new voting machines. Kobach did not call for a recount, even though he supposedly won the Republican nomination by only 200 votes.
GOP Removes Sole Polling Place in Dodge City
Law & Crime reported that the sole polling place in Dodge City, KS was moved from the city’s civic center to an out-of-town location. The new polling place for Dodge City voters is now a mile away from the nearest bus stop and close to a country club.
When looking at the demographics of the city, the move was done for political reasons. Dodge City is now 60% Hispanic. Most of those voters are inclined to vote for Democrats. The area of the new polling place is affluent and predominantly white.
When asked about the move, Kansas Elections Director Bryan Caskey said that the polling place had to be moved for safety reasons because construction was set to begin in the area. However, Johnny Dunlap, the chairman of the Ford County Democratic Party, said that the construction had already begun and that the working being done would not have affected the space where the city’s polling place once stood.
Furthermore, Dunlap said that Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox refused to increase the polling places in the city. When asked about it, Cox said that her budget wouldn’t allow it although she is responsible for making her own budget. On average, each polling place in the state accommodates 1,200 voters. Dodge City has a population of 27,000 and 13,000 eligible voters, which means that poll workers and voters in the city already had a huge burden.
On October 14, 2018, The Palast Investigative Fund released the names of Nevada residents whose names were removed from voter rolls in two counties. In all, about 90,000 people were affected in Las Vegas in Reno (in Clark and Washoe Counties, respectively). The investigative fund received the names from Nevada Secretary of State Barbara K. Cegavske (a Republican) under threat of litigation. Nevada was one of the states that were using lists provided by Kobach as part of his Crosscheck program.
This year, North Dakota passed a law to disqualify voters who lacked a valid mailing address from voting. P.O. Boxes are prohibited. In October, the Supreme Court weighed in and upheld the law.
This law disproportionally affects Native Americans. They are only allowed to use P.O. Boxes because the United States Postal Service does not deliver mail to their rural homes.
It should be noted that this law really hurts Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. in 2012, she won by fewer than 3,000 votes and received major backing from Native Americans in North Dakota.
Ohio is a state with one of the most aggressive voter-purging programs in the country and it, too was “aided” by the Supreme Court this year. Ohio runs a postcard-scheme in order to remove voters who don’t respond but it also removes voters who have not voted in two years. In 2016, Jon Husted, the state’s Republican secretary of state, suffered a temporary defeat because a district court ruled that this practice was illegal. However, in June 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in Husted’s favor, and he wasted no time purging voters.
Now, under federal law, Husted is barred from removing names from voter rolls within 90 days of an election. However, he could still mess with voters who would like to participate in 2020. He is still in violation of the NVRA because that law allowed for states to remove voters who had moved or died. In many cases, Husted is removing perfectly eligible voters with little notice.
On October 26, news surfaced that early voters in Texas using certain electronic voting machines saw their votes flip, although they had chosen straight-party tickets. According to the Texas Democratic Party, many constituents saw their votes for Beto O’Rourke being flipped to Ted Cruz. The machines were manufactured by Hart eSlate and they provide no paper trail.
Representatives for Hart eSlate and the Republican-led Secretary of State’s office blamed the issues on voter error. At the same time, the Secretary of State’s offices said that there was nothing it could do to fix the issue.
The voting machines are in use in 80 of Texas’ 254 counties. These include Harris County, the largest in the state, and the home to Houston.
By Comparison …
Oregon’s voting system is the highest-rated in the United States for a couple of reasons. First, it has an elections process that is conducted entirely by mail. Secondly, the state has an automatic voter registration system.
Oregon’s vote-by-mail law was passed in 2000. It is convenient because people in the state do not have to go out of their way to travel to polling places.
The automatic registration law was passed in Oregon in 2016. Under the law, people who go to the DMV to obtain or renew their drivers’ license are automatically registered to vote. They will then be sent a card by mail in case they want to opt out.
A similar law was passed in California in 2017. Under this law, everyone obtaining any form of ID from a DMV is automatically registered to vote. This includes 16- and 17-year-olds, but they will only become eligible when they turn 18.
I like these laws (including OR’s vote-by-mail law) because they are convenient. The make the voting process easier and eligible voters do not have to fill out annoying forms just to be registered. I believe all states should have automatic registration systems, but there are many other things that should be done to prevent elections officials from disenfranchising voters.
So, tomorrow is Election Day. Although many people have already taken advantage of early voting opportunities, tomorrow is the day when most votes will be tabulated. We will see if there is a blue wave and what type of Congress we’ll be dealing with. Unfortunately, voter disenfranchisement will likely cut into the Democrats’ numbers.
Anyway, I will try to have the Election Day post up as soon as possible.
- These 2018 Midterms Are Tests Because They Will Be Hard
- 2017 Rewind: A Prelude to the Midterms
- -Feb. 2018: Are You Ready for Some Midterms?
- -Oct 2018: The Primaries Are upon Us
- Extra Midterm News: Will There Be an October Surprise?
- Will We See a Blue Wave in 2018?
- Election Day Is Here: Who Won?
- Before We Can Look Ahead to 2020, We Must Process These Midterms