The CIA conclusion that the Russians intervened in our elections in order to help elect Donald Trump has sent Washington into one of its fabled tizzies.
President Barack Obama has ordered an intelligence agency report before he leaves office. Democrats and responsible Republicans are calling for congressional investigations. Pundits are arguing the Russians — combined with FBI Director James Comey’s outrageous interventions — cost Hillary Clinton the election. In response, President-elect Trump is tweeting furiously about voter fraud, peddling lies about millions of illegal immigrants voting and many other things to distract from the escalating scandal.
Left out of this brouhaha is the systematic and purposeful voter suppression that certainly cost Clinton the election. The Russians didn’t do it. It was done by right-wing partisan state officials eager to suppress the vote of people of color, the young and the working poor. These efforts were open, systematic and widespread. And this domestic hacking at our elections was far more destructive than the hacking Russia is said to have done.
This was the first presidential election since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. According to the Brennan Center, 14 states passed voter suppression laws that were in effect for the first time in November, including swing states like Ohio and Wisconsin.
The steps taken to suppress the vote aren’t secret: new requirements of voter ID that discriminate against the poor, the elderly and disproportionately people of color; restrictions on use of college ID to impede student voting; closing registration weeks before Election Day; limiting early voting days, closing on Sundays; holding Election Day on a workday with limited hours for voting, making it difficult for those with inflexible hours to get to the polls; shutting down or moving polling places to confuse voters and force them to wait in long lines; purging voters from the polling lists, leaving them to cast provisional ballots at best; prohibiting felons who have paid their debt to society from ever recovering the right to vote, disproportionately impacting African-American men.
There is little doubt that these measures worked, and cost Clinton the election. In Wisconsin, for example, Trump’s margin of victory was 27,000. A record 300,000 registered voters lacked the newly required ID, contributing to the lowest turnout in 20 years. Turnout was down by more than 50,000 in Milwaukee where 70 percent of the state’s African-American population lives.
In North Carolina, black turnout was down 16 percent in the first week of early voting, in part because there were 158 fewer polling places in the 40 counties with large numbers of black voters. The targeting was intentional, with Republican officials celebrating the effects. The decision by the right-wing gang of five on the Supreme Court in the Shelby case effectively subverted the victory of the civil rights movement at Selma.
If Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee’s and the Clinton campaign’s emails to influence the election, it should be investigated. In an election decided by 80,000 votes in three states, it might have made a difference (as almost anything could in an election that close). But what is clear is that Russian hacking was not nearly as effective as the partisan systematic suppression of the vote. And that effort is continuing. Republicans in Missouri took control and moved to institute new voting ID restrictions for the next election. In Wisconsin, Republicans announced plans for new restrictions on early voting.
Why aren’t Democrats railing about voter suppression and demanding congressional investigation and action? Why haven’t university presidents and civil rights lawyers joined in a national commission to detail the suppression and demand a strengthening of the Voting Rights Act? Why aren’t pundits pounding on this, outing the state officials and legislators who did it and exposing the right-wing apparatus that orchestrated it? Is it because Russian interference is more exotic? Is it because neither party thinks suppression of the votes of people of color and the young is an unacceptable outrage?
I urge President Obama to launch an investigation and report on voter suppression to be released before he leaves office. President-elect Donald Trump says he wants to be the president of all Americans. If so, he should lead an effort to end voter suppression and to revive the Voting Rights Act. Democratic leaders say they want the party to build a broad majority coalition across lines of race. If so, they should be demanding an investigation of voter suppression and filibustering to force revival of the Voting Rights Act.
Inside the beltway, voter suppression isn’t hot. Republicans peddle the myth of voter fraud. Democrats cry foul on Russian interference. Neither party will focus on the biggest scandal of all: the fact that partisans in states across the country acted purposefully to suppress the right to vote of targeted groups of citizens. We didn’t win the right to vote from politicians. Citizens had to march and protest, bleed and die to win that right. We can’t count on politicians to defend the right to vote — they, after all, are elected under the distorted rules we have. Citizens of conscience must move to end voter suppression and clean up our elections.