The term voter suppression describes the efforts, both legal and illegal, to stop eligible people from casting their vote. It is not new: voting suppression in the US stretches back to 1838’s Gallatin County Election Day Battle. Today, however, it’s become increasingly heinous and dangerous. In fact, Democratic Senator Chris Coons recently said in Time Magazine: “Too many Americans don’t realize that voter suppression works, and that it has a cumulative, destructive effect on our democracy that builds with every election.”
It’s also important to say that Donald Trump, per se, is not the biggest perpetrator of suppressing the vote. His knowledge of how the system actually is supposed to work is likely quite limited. But that doesn’t mean that both state—the GOP and its dark money funders—and non-state actors— The Koch Brothers plus Russian hackers working with the knowledge and consent of Putin—haven’t done their best to suppress votes. Or that Drumpf isn’t cheerleading those efforts from the Oval Office.
Hours after the election, I told everyone I knew that the Russians stole the election. Not with a massive attack, I maintained. They simply flipped a few votes here, a few votes there, primarily in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Those efforts were just enough to turn the electoral college red. My friends indulged me, but I’m sure they thought I was nursing a huge case of sour grapes. Eight months later, however, it looks more and more like that was the case. At least Esquire seems to think so.
It would be impossible to review all the research and information about voting suppression strategies and tactic in one blog. So what follows are just a few reports and incidents you absolutely, positively need to check out. And bear in mind most of these activities began well before the election.
- Unhack the Vote, created by Mike Farb studies voting patterns in the aforementioned states and has found evidence that defies coincidence, particularly in Pennsylvania. In that state, for example they discovered 3 precincts with a vote tally margin of exactly .666667 in the GOP’s favor. Wisconsin was won by 5,000 votes, primarily in a county where the vote tally was higher than the number of voters registered. Gee, think the voting software was manipulated?
- Hackers, probably Russian, tried to access voting rolls and in many cases succeeded. Recent articles now report that 21 states (and still counting) were targeted. Many actually made it through the firewalls. While it’s unknown whether they were able to alter vote totals, we do know they stole voter data in both Illinois and Arizona. (More about that later).
- We also know our voting machines are largely insecure, and that hacking them can be done remotely or onsite in less than five minutes. And probably were.
- Counties in Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia experienced difficulties with their electronic poll books, which made it difficult for registered voters to cast their ballots on Election Day, according to The New York Times. Indeed, one of the companies that provided the software used in those books, VR Systems, had been penetrated by Russian hackers several months earlier.
Which brings us to the far more insidious efforts of election and political officials, all GOP, to suppress the vote before and during the election. Here are just some of the ways this was done.
- For the seventh time since 2011, a federal court has found Texas intentionally discriminated against minority voters, through its redistricting plans and strict voter ID law.
- Under the pretense of dealing with voter fraud, almost every state took measures to restrict voting before the 2016 election, including tighter voter ID requirements, cuts in early voting opportunities and polling places, and barriers to tens of thousands of low-income and people of color citizens. Five of fourteen states had shameful histories of racial discrimination in voting, and had been forced to get federal approval before changing their voting procedures.
- Trouble In Arizona; Cesspool In North Carolina: Arizona enjoyed a high voter turnout for the state’s democratic primary in 2016, but plenty of voters waited more than five hours at polling stations. These queues happened because, between 2008 and 2016, polling locations in Arizona were cut by 70%, from 200 to just 40, allegedly to save money.
- But it appears that North Carolina wins the prize for the most draconian action of voter suppression. During 2013 the state House passed a bill forcing voters to show a state photo ID, passport, or military ID card for the 2016 election. The court initially reversed itself when lawyers found that the new system targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision,” and clear “discriminatory intent”. But North Carolina also saw 6,700 people of color lose their right to vote because of Crosscheck. Election officials sent letters to black communities marked ‘do not forward’, and named those who didn’t respond ‘ghost voters’, and were removed from vote rolls by Republicans.
- North Carolina voters also faced mass poll closures during the 2016 election. In fact forty counties with large black communities had 158 fewer polling stations than they enjoyed for the last election, when Obama was re-elected, and the first week of early voting for the 2016 election saw African American voter participation reduced by 16% compared to 2012.
- Research by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology revealed that Hispanic voters spend one and a half times as long in line than their white counterparts, and African Americans spend nearly twice as long waiting to vote. It’s clear that the longer you have to wait, the less likely you are to vote.
- The Crosscheck Con: Investigative reporter Greg Palast says the election was fixed by GOP and Trump’s operatives way before a single vote was cast. A system called Crosscheck, designed to ferret out what Republicans called the “massive fraud” of undocumented citizens voting for Hillary, managed to purge a massive 1.1 million Americans of color from the rolls of states controlled by the GOP. Created by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, it’s been found to be a Machiavellian mess. While it has flagged millions of people in multiple states, in actual fact they’re simply people with the same name and date of birth as someone else in another state. Experts say there’s little or no evidence that double voting is anything more than a minor issue – it’s most likely that when people move they register to vote in their new state. And yet, this is the system Trump now wants to take nationwide in an effort to disenfranchise even more voters.
- Gerrymandering: And what about the systematic gerrymandering efforts that have produced a Republican stranglehold over Congress? Gerrymandering allows states to redraw election districts that favor the party in control. Since Republicans control more than half of statehouses, guess who the gerrymandered districts favor? According to Vox, if elections for the 2018 US House of Representatives were held today, polling averages suggest Democrats would get a little bit over 54 percent of the vote which sounds great but won’t deliver Democrats a landslide House majority. In fact, it won’t deliver them a majority at all. 54 percent of the vote will translate to 206 seats, leaving Republicans with 229 seats and the majority. Or only 47% of the seats. Because gerrymandered districts are predominantly Republican, they presumably would vote for a Republican Congressman. Undoing GOP gerrymandering needs to be done one district at a time. And that’s a lot of hard work for Dems.
- Citizens United:: And then there’s the 2010 disaster that is Citizens United. is when the Supreme Court decided that unlimited corporate money could be given to a candidate. Their decision made it possible for The Koch brothers, Robert Mercer, and corporations to explode the voting process and make politicians spend over half their time in Washington raising money. Moreover, because CU doesn’t require amounts to be curtailed or disclosed, it’s opened the door to shady and in some cases illegal contributions (dark money) from foreign actors.
But that’s still not the end of the story. For the first time, new tactics were used during the 2016 election season itself. Many believe they worked. Some were clearly the result of Russian hacking efforts, others were funded by Robert Mercer and perhaps money donated by Russians through the Trump campaign.
- Invasion of the BOTs: Automated software has created millions of fake accounts on Twitter and Facebook. These fake accounts are used to spreading disinformation, make political attacks on people and institutions, and generally sow discord and chaos. While individuals can block them, you first need to recognize they are bots, not humans, which, in a brief scan of your newsfeed, isn’t always apparent. But more than being a nuisance, an Oxford University study found they had an effect on the results.
- Cambridge Analytica and Voter Profiles: Remember when Trump unexpectedly went to Michigan on the last weekend before the election season to hold a rally? How did his campaign know to send him to a dependably Democratic-voting rust-state belt? Because of a particularly nefarious new private data gathering and analysis system, spearheaded by a company called Cambridge Analytica. CA is funded by Robert Mercer, and was run by one of its board members, Steve Bannon. Remember those voter rolls accessed by Russian hackers in Blue State Illinois and Red State Arizona? Cambridge Analytica was able to also steal huge Facebook lists and compared that data with those voter rolls. Because the FB data includes likes, hobbies, and behavior, CA came up with lists of likely Trump and Hillary voters. Then they targeted each group with pro-Trump or Anti-Hillary messages. By analyzing state by state results, it seems that Republicans knew exactly which state to manipulate data from or purge voters. Talk about a “rigged” election.
Since this post turned out to be quite long, (congrats for making it this far) I’ve broken it into parts. Next time I’ll talk about some of the fixes.