Opinion: Voter fraud myth a Trojan Horse for voter suppression
By Stephanie J. Jones
Published October 29, 2020 in The Cincinnati Enquirer | Cincinnati.com
Within days after the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated the Voting Rights Act in 2013 – gutting the requirement that changes in election procedures must first be precleared by the U.S. Department of Justice – state legislatures and election officials wasted no time ramming through voter suppression methods such as stringent voter IDs, voter purges, limitations on early voting, etc. No longer constrained by federal law, some states immediately began proving the fallacy and foolishness of Justice John Roberts’ illogical insistence that the preclearance provision was no longer necessary because it was working.
When challenged on their actions, these officials insisted they were only trying to stop "voter fraud," by preventing ineligible voters from casting illegal ballots. Never mind that this so-called voter fraud was then and continues to be a myth. Those claiming otherwise have been unable to prove instances of voter fraud, and even Donald Trump’s handpicked commission formed to prove the existence of such fraud quietly disbanded and slunk away after they couldn’t find anything worth talking about. That was their story and they stuck to it.
Seven years after Shelby, in the midst of the most important election of our lifetimes, something interesting has happened. The people who insisted they must impose draconian measures to stop the imaginary voter fraud are revealing their true purpose had nothing to do with any concern about fraudulent voting. For example:
In Alabama, the secretary of state has prohibited local election officials from implementing – even if they want to – curbside or "drive-thru" voting, which allows voters avoid exposing themselves to large crowds by casting their ballots from their cars at polling sites.
In North Carolina, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, Trump, his campaign and operatives have gone to court to stop the states from accommodating challenges of the pandemic and handcuffing of the U.S. Postal Service by allowing a reasonable amount of time beyond customary deadlines to accept and count absentee ballots where a voter has postmarked and mailed them on time.
In Pennsylvania, Texas, and right here in Ohio, the Trump campaign and Republican Party are fighting tooth and nail to prevent boards of elections from placing more than one ballot drop box per county, forcing anyone who wants to vote early, but doesn’t trust mailing their ballot, to travel sometimes for dozens of miles and more and wait in long car lines just to deliver their ballot to the polling place. And Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has gone so far as to issue an executive order prohibiting the state from placing more than one box per county, leading to the untenable situation in which certain populous (and, not surprisingly, largely minority) counties are limited to one drop box for millions of voters.
In Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign has challenged the state’s requirement that poll watchers must be residents of the counties in which they are operating, a restriction that thwarts attempts to send in militias and other disrupters to stalk and intimidate voters.
These are just a few examples of what is happening around the country.
What do all of these actions have in common? Not one of them involves any attempt to prevent ineligible voters from voting. To the contrary, every one of these cases is a head-on attempt to restrict the voting rights of eligible voters by either making it more difficult – and in many cases, impossible – for them to cast their vote, or by throwing out their legally-cast ballot based on meaningless procedural technicalities.
None of these measures will reduce the likelihood of the mythical "voter fraud." They will, however, increase the likelihood that legally-cast ballots by registered, eligible citizens won’t be counted. And these actions will have a disproportionate impact on low-income, elderly and minority voters.
This is not just a half-hearted effort on their part. They are throwing everything they have – time, lawyers and money – to defend their suppressive procedures and blocking every reasonable measure designed to ensure that all registered voters can vote easily and safely and that all their votes are counted. The NAACP and other civil rights groups are waging a multi-front battle across the country to defend and protect voting rights in the face of this unprecedented assault. In many of these cases, the courts have stood firm in protecting the voting rights of our most vulnerable citizens.
But when they lose, the vote suppressors don’t give up. Instead, they file endless appeals and seek out other courts, hoping to find a judge who will give credence to their cruel mission. And, thanks to the successful hijacking of the courts, there are a troubling number of Trump-appointed judges who have proven willing to do their bidding.
For example, after at least three state and federal courts rejected his bogus argument that state law doesn’t permit more than one drop box per county, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose finally found a friendly federal court panel dominated by Trump appointees to agree with him on the ridiculous grounds that drastically restricting their access to drop boxes "is unlikely to harm anyone" and giving Ohio citizens more options to vote in a pandemic poses "a grave risk of voter confusion." (How does making it more convenient for voters to cast their ballot "confusing?")
But the voters aren’t confused. And neither should anyone else be. We all now see the truth that the suppressors aren’t even trying to hide anymore: The "voter fraud" gambit was a Trojan Horse, cloaking voter suppression within a seemingly noble cause and then sneaking it through the gates of our democracy while too many people were sleeping. What was camouflaged as measures to protect our electoral process from imagined ineligible voters has now been revealed as an ugly, massive and organized effort to prevent real-life eligible registered voters from participating in the system.
But let’s also not be discouraged by any this. Be empowered. There is a reason there is such a massive effort to stop our vote. It is proof that our vote matters. If it didn’t, there would not be such a concerted effort to block it.
Remember, they can bluster and sue and block all they want. They will never be a match for a determined voter with the U.S. Constitution on our side.
Stephanie J. Jones is president of The Call to Justice Foundation, based in Cincinnati, and is legal counsel for the NAACP’s National Voter Protection and Empowerment Program.