(Originally published on September 1, 2017)
A myriad of excuses, reasons, voter analysis and ‘yeah-buts’ have been presented for why Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election to President Trump. But few have been so ill-informed and consistent with racial scapegoating as the recent conclusion offered by Markos Moulitsas, founder of Daily Kos and co-founder of Vox Media.
White supremacist presidents will pardon other white supremacists. That's what happens when communities of color don't vote.
— Markos Moulitsas (@markos) August 26, 2017
According to Moulitsas, Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election ultimately because — wait for it — “communities of color don’t vote.”
Okay, we get it. The various other excuses presented (like the most recent one about Bernie Sanders supporters being singlehandedly responsible for electing Donald Trump) have all been thoroughly refuted, so you need a new scapegoat. However, blaming people of color for the election of Trump is not only shamefully inaccurate, it also ignores the full-throttle resurgence of the Jim Crow movement aimed at excluding millions of non-white Americans from our democracy and its protections by robbing them of their right to vote.
“If your car gets stolen, you don’t call it ‘car suppression.’ You call it theft.”
In an exclusive interview with Grit Post, investigative journalist Greg Palast made it clear that the phrase “voter suppression” doesn’t accurately describe what’s being done to voters of color in America today. In a town hall in Richmond, Virginia, Palast unveiled months of research he’s conducted on President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity, which is chaired by both Vice President Mike Pence and voter fraud crusader Kris Kobach of Kansas.
According to Palast, Kobach has expanded his efforts in his role as Kansas Secretary of State to steal votes from minorities by expanding what is referred to as the “Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program” (Crosscheck). Kobach argues the Crosscheck program detects and purges fraudulent voters from voter rolls in order to protect the integrity of the election system. But one of the many problems with Crosscheck is that it’s based on a fundamental farce.
In response to losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, Trump has repeated the demonstrably false claim that at least 3 million people voted illegally in 2016, despite having no evidence to prove that such illegal activity actually occurred.
In December, the Washington Post discovered that out of nearly 130 million ballots cast in the presidential election, there were only four documented cases of actual voter fraud. And while the specter of “voter fraud” has long been a crusade of the Republican Party, there have been only 31 credible incidents of voter fraud out of more than one billion votes analyzed by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt between 2000 and 2014.
Even after having his claim universally debunked, President Trump nonetheless announced the creation of the Bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Integrity to explore the vulnerabilities in voting systems used for federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations, improper voting, fraudulent voter registrations, and fraudulent voting. The Commission was also tasked with studying concerns about voter suppression, as well as other voting irregularities, and to report these findings to Trump
“This action by President Trump fulfills another promise made to the American people,” Vice President Pence said at the time. “We can’t take for granted the integrity of the vote. This bipartisan commission will review ways to strengthen the integrity of elections in order to protect and preserve the principle of one person, one vote because the integrity of the vote is the foundation of our democracy.”
One would think that such a vast conspiracy of illegal voter activity spanning multiple states would be investigated by the Department of Justice. However, instead of pursuing an official investigation, President Trump has instead deputized Pence, Kobach, and the entire commission to use an arbitrary and unproven position as the basis for questioning the voter registrations of millions of Americans.
What Is Voter Crosscheck and How Does It Work?
Crosscheck is a voter name matching system that compares similar voter registration data across multiple states and uses those similarities to declare certain registrations as duplicate, suggesting the same voter cast a ballot in two different states in the same election year.
The program was started in 2005 in Kansas, with a stated purpose of creating a database of registered voters in order to prevent voter fraud. The problem with this system, according to Palast, is that it offers zero proof of double voting, falsely assumes sameness of identity based on name alone, and is being implemented in a manner that deliberately and disproportionately targets African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans.
According to Palast, Kobach assembled a list of 98 million voter registrations from 27 states. Of those 98 million names, Kobach has identified 7.2 million that he considers suspect. The names of these 7.2 million ‘suspected’ double voters are overwhelmingly black, brown, Hispanic, or “Asian-sounding” in nature.
“This represents a massive racial purge of the voter rolls. Mostly Republican controlled states are using this hit list of Kobach’s to purge the voter rolls. Over 41,673 citizens have had their voter registrations canceled in Virginia alone,” Palast told Grit Post. “Of the three democratically controlled states that turned over voter data to the commission — lllinois, Virginia, and Massachusetts — they’ve inherited a system of black voter purging from Republicans.”
Which States Are Purging Voters?
When Kobach made his initial request to states to turn over their voter rolls to the commission, many states issued public statements declaring the commission a farce and stressing their refusal to cooperate. Despite what appeared to be a pushback from various state officials, some states nonetheless turned over their voter rolls as requested. According to Palast, the following states have submitted their voter roles for Kobach’s Interstate Crosscheck System:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
Based on Palast’s warning, if you live in one of these states and have an African American, Hispanic, or Asian-sounding name, it’s likely Kobach has already canceled or is planning to cancel your voter registration.
Not An Accident: Vote Theft Targets Minorities
If we, for a moment, take the description of Crosscheck at face value and accept that its purpose is to protect the integrity of our election system, the methodology applied in this system as described by Palast divulges either an outright intent to steal the votes of nonwhites or a gross incompetence on the part of the commission to appropriately identify and eliminate actual cases of illegal voting.
According to Palast, Kobach uses Crosscheck to simply compare first and last names. If the names sound similar, they are deemed appropriate for voter registration cancellation. This includes similar registrations with different middle names or different suffixes, and identical names from different states altogether.
For example, a person named John F. Smith and a person named John M. Smith could be declared the same person and then purged from the voter rolls. A person named James Brown Sr. and a person named James Brown Jr. could be declared the same person and purged from the voter rolls. This would prove particularly problematic for communities with common last and first names. If Garcia, Brown, or Nguyen are common surnames for a community, that community could find itself in the crosshairs of Crosscheck and disproportionately affected by voter purging.
As with many other issues in public policy, there’s a socioeconomic factor that comes into play with Crosscheck, as low-income voters are also disproportionately affected. Palast described the “due process” of Crosscheck to Grit Post and how citizens are made aware that their voter registration has come into question.
Citizens are mailed a postcard to their voter address on file. The postcard requests that they verify their voter registration information and gives that voter a deadline for correspondence. If a resident does not respond within the timeframe, Palast explained, their voter registration is canceled.
Although this might appear to be a reasonable approach on the surface, it disproportionately favors those with higher income. Because higher income voters tend to own their homes and not rent, the chances of citizens actually receiving the postcard is a lot higher for homeowners, who tend to move less often than those who rent. According to the Center for Housing Policy, lower income or unemployed citizens tend to move more often, which increases their chances of not receiving the postcard notification and having their voter registration automatically canceled.
So why don’t people register to vote at their new residence when they move?
In light of these realities, it might be easy to simply declare that citizens should register to vote at their new residence if they relocate from one jurisdiction to another. According to Palast’s research, they do. However, this specific action creates duplicate voter registrations across jurisdictions and leads to accusations of criminal activity, despite no proof of those residents ever attempting to vote more than once. Even First Daughter Tiffany Trump, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and former White House Chief Advisor Steve Bannon are not immune to this common occurrence.
All of this means that minorities, their allies, and the political entities charged with representing those communities will have to take swift action prior to the 2018 midterm elections to combat Crosscheck and its outcomes that appear to mirror the implications of a revived Jim Crow system.
How To Protect Your Vote
The volume of states that have submitted voter data to the commission might make it difficult for citizens to avoid finding themselves ensnared in the Crosscheck web. However, there are several steps citizens can take to protect their right to vote.
1: Educate Yourself – Know Your Rights
Research the voting laws for your state and know how they apply to your circumstances. Does your state require that you declare a political party or can you be independent? Can you register to vote at your precinct on Election Day, or are there deadlines required to be eligible prior to arriving at your voting station? Are you required to submit a state I.D. in order to vote, or not? Are you even on the voter rolls, or have you been purged? Researching this information with your county clerk will help you better protect your voter registration and appropriately navigate the process if it has been canceled.
2: Know the Pitfalls of Vote Theft
The lady behind the desk at the county clerk’s office is not going to know why your registration was canceled, so don’t expect any answers or any explanation from her. Someone may suggest you fill out a provisional ballot as a means of diffusing your frustrations. If this happens…
DO NOT ACCEPT PROVISIONAL BALLOTS.
In many states, they aren’t counted or can be thrown out for the slightest reasons. According to Palast, 2.7 million provisional ballots were filled out in the 2016 election, and almost all were given to black people.
DON’T TRUST VOTING MACHINES.
Palast emphasized that the machines in low income communities tend to be less reliable than in high-income communities. Older machines routinely declare many votes to be “unreadable.” They are then disqualified. In Michigan, for example, 87 optical scanners in Detroit’s decade-old voting machines broke on Election Day, rendering the ballots cast on those machines ineligible for recount. Because Detroit is heavily Democratic, and because 45 won Michigan by just over 10,000 votes, these voting machine issues very likely could have made the crucial difference in the pivotal swing state.
BEWARE OF VOTING DRIVES.
According to Palast, 75 percent of voting drive registrations are not accepted. Citizens who think they’ve registered show up on Election Day only to be turned away.
Step 3: Re-register to vote
Palast asserts that the only way to defeat Crosscheck is to re-register to vote. This runs the risk of inundating state offices with duplicate requests, but if Palast’s investigations are correct, you can thank 45, Kobach, the commission, and Crosscheck for creating the conditions that force citizens — minorities in particular — to continually re-register or risk having their vote stolen.
Yes, Voting Really Does Matter
Suffragettes and civil rights activists made tremendous sacrifices in order to ensure that participation in our democracy be afforded to all citizens and not just some. But more importantly, as Palast told Grit Post, voting enables citizens to partake in all of the protections afforded to participants of a democracy.
“If you take away someone’s vote, you also take away their government protection,” Palast said.
While there are countless battles to fight in order to preserve democracy, disengaging in the voting process or being complacent about protecting the right to vote puts power in the hands of those who want to return society to a time when voting was not a right and was only bestowed upon a privileged few.
“I don’t want everybody to vote,” American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) founder Paul Weyrich famously said in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
The groups most likely affected by Crosscheck, minorities, low-income earners, and Americans who move often, tend to vote Democrat more often than Republican. This speaks to Palast’s assertions that the commission is deliberately targeting Democratic-leaning constituencies. One example from the last election was a press release from the Republican Party of North Carolina, which boasted that fewer black voters participated in early voting in the 2016 election due to North Carolina’s voter ID law, which was later struck down by a federal court.
— Colin Campbell (@RaleighReporter) November 7, 2016
The 2,600+ people who liked Markos Moulitsas’ tweet blaming people of color for electing 45 would do well to listen to Greg Palast:
“It’s not that people of color aren’t voting. They’re trying to vote, but are being blocked,” Palast said. “Try voting black in America – it’s an obstacle course.”
Shara Smith is publisher of Grit Post. She writes about politics, economics, and social justice issues. Her background is in communications and management. She founded Grit Post after a long career in academia and the nonprofit sector. Follow her on Twitter @writershara or email her at info AT gritpost DOT com.