Tag Archives: voter suppression

More and More on Pernicious Voter Suppression

Culebra      This is a warning on the eve of a new year:  I’m obsessed with stopping voter suppression as we countdown the months and days to the election in November.  Besides my general obsession, I’m especially focused on the efforts “behind closed doors,” so to speak in the warrens and cubbyholes of secretaries of state where voter files are managed and maintained.  One of my recurring nightmares after five decades of work registering voters, particularly among low-and-moderate income families, is that many of our efforts to bring new voters through the front door are being lost as nameless data crunchers eliminate voters through the backdoor through purges and other mechanisms.

Reading Andrew Cockburn’s piece in the recent Atlantic called “Election Bias:  The New Playbook for Voter Suppression,” added more logs to my fire.  Much of his “letter from Washington” repeated the litany of recent examples of voter purges in Georgia, Wisconsin, and elsewhere.  He started his piece though with a story about the Tennessee Black Voter Project.  They claimed to have registered 90,000, largely African-American new voters in the spring of 2018.  They had to endure the usual obstacles of rejections, but past that the Secretary of State became the leader of the Republican band in the legislature to make it harder to register new voters in Tennessee by putting “mass registration drives under state control and to criminalize mistakes made on applications.  The bill imposed heavy fines for any group that turned in multiple incomplete applications, mandated severe penalties for failing to submit registration forms to election officials within ten days of being signed by the applicant, and require any person registering voters to receive official certification and government-administered training.”  In short, the usual menu of obstacles to successful registration drives.  Fortunately, a Tennessee district judge threw it out.

What caught my eye especially though was not all of this harassment, but one of the key organizers being quoted as not knowing which of their registrants successfully got through the process and which didn’t.  This is exactly one of the aims of our Voter Purge Project, a partnership of ACORN International, the American Voter Project, and Labor Neighbor Research & Training Center.  Using our database processing this would be an easy query and match that we could do for them, except for one thing that gets less attention and that Cockburn didn’t cover.  To get the voter file and check on success versus failure and who might have been purged, correctly or falsely, would take $2500, and to monitor it throughout a year, would mean $2500 times twelve months or $30,000.  Tennessee doesn’t want anyone without deep, deep pockets to be able to see how they are handling the voter lists or their database!

The general theme of Cockburn’s piece, the critique of the Tennessee Black Voter Project, and scores of other efforts throughout the south and the rest of the country is not just voter suppression, but a concerted effort to deny voters on par with the systemic policies that the Civil Rights Movement sought to address.  Might as well tell it like it is, and it is pure grade evil and crosses the line of what should be permissible in a democracy.  Period.


Georgia Voter Purge Begins Early, but Why Purges?

New Orleans        We knew it was coming.  When the American Voters Project combined with ACORN International and Labor Neighbor Research and Action Project to create the Voter Purge Project one of our first conversations was about adding Georgia to the list of states we needed to monitor aggressively.  Within days we were hearing calls for help from the New York Times and NPR.  Everyone saw this train coming down the track and none of us were ready when one full year before the election the office of the Georgia Secretary of State announced that they were preparing to purge 300,000 voters from the list, almost 4% of the registered voters in the state.

Georgia had been ground zero in the divisive and controversial recent election for governor there when the existing Secretary of State in charge of the election itself was able to narrowly defeat state legislator and African-American woman Stacey Abrams by a bit more than one-percent of the vote.  His utilization of voter purges and control of the voter list and election process was a huge issue in the election, and has become the main political project of Abrams subsequently.  In 2020, the state has two Republican Senators up for re-election making Georgia a battleground from the top of the ballot on down.

The spokesperson for the coming purge in George was quoted in The New York Times to the effect that this was natural and something that all states are doing, as if that answered any potential question about the practice or the impact of such purges.  Certainly, to the degree that the names of deceased voters are on the list, it makes sense to remove them.

Some of the other rationales for the practice are less clear.  The next most common has to do with correct addresses, but this argument isn’t a slam dunk.  It clearly favors homeowners as citizen-voters rather than tenants who are forced to move more often, and it favors higher income tenants compared to those living more precariously.  Little is done to make the process easier for tenants to vote, and the primacy of a home address to a citizen’s right to vote seems more like a record keeping problem, than a useful bar to democratic process.

The most specious argument in some ways may be the rationale that voters that have not participated in recent elections need to be removed from current and future elections, especially given the ideological devotion most states currently ascribe to voter IDs.  In countries like the USA where there is no mandatory obligation to vote, why would an eligible, registered voter be removed from voting rolls?  The claim of potential voter fraud disappears when voters in most areas have to show IDs now, which would establish their identity and eligibility regardless of whether or not they might have participated in recent elections.  In many cases, people aren’t voting because they don’t think their vote counts, the candidates and issues don’t seem compelling enough, or life, work, family and the myriad challenges prevent them from getting to the polls without extraordinary effort.  Why should they be purged? The Voter Purge Project also believes that with some work we can show that there is direct discrimination based on place, race, and income in such purges.

This train maybe coming in Georgia and many other states, but it seems clear that it needs to be slowed down or stopped until it is put on the right track.