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It's Time For Democrats To Investigate Voter Suppression

In this March 1, 2016, file photo, a sign tells voters of voter ID requirements before participating in the primary election at Sherrod Elementary school in Arlington, Texas. Attorneys challenging tough voter ID laws in Texas and North Carolina say they’ll keep pressing their lawsuits without the support of President Donald Trump’s Justice Department if necessary. Trump announced Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, that he is ordering a “major investigation” into voter fraud, which tough laws requiring photo identification at the ballot box are designed to prevent. (LM Otero/AP)MoreCloseclosemore
In this March 1, 2016, file photo, a sign tells voters of voter ID requirements before participating in the primary election at Sherrod Elementary school in Arlington, Texas. Attorneys challenging tough voter ID laws in Texas and North Carolina say they’ll keep pressing their lawsuits without the support of President Donald Trump’s Justice Department if necessary. Trump announced Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, that he is ordering a “major investigation” into voter fraud, which tough laws requiring photo identification at the ballot box are designed to prevent. (LM Otero/AP)

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The president’s absurd “election integrity” commission is dead. This, you’ll recall, was the panel convened to prove that millions of “illegal immigrants” voted in the 2016 election.

I hope it will not shock any of the MAGA trolls out there to learn that this claim did not pan out. Indeed, the entire boondoggle is probably best thought of as the Losing by Three Million Votes to a Girl Who Reminds Me of Just How Small My Hands Are Commission.

The panel did achieve one core Trumpian objective, though, aside from wasting taxpayer money: It managed to keep the media focused on the Fake News story of voter fraud, which is virtually nonexistent.

Now that the panel has gone the way of the border wall and Anthony Scaramucci and coherent presidential speech patterns, the Democrats should consider launching a panel of their own, one on voter suppression.

Why? Because Republicans have been openly working to disenfranchise poor and minority voters for decades.

They do this using numerous tactics. Here are just a few outlined in the United Nations' recent report on poverty in the U.S.: “Artificial and unnecessary ID requirements, the blatant manipulation of polling station locations, the relocating of DMVs to make it more difficult for certain groups to obtain IDs.”

In this Feb. 26, 2014 file photo, an election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early voting polling site in Austin, Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)
In this Feb. 26, 2014 file photo, an election official checks a voter's photo identification at an early voting polling site in Austin, Texas. (Eric Gay/AP)

As the GOP has become a minority party, run by demagogues and plutocrats and increasingly driven by the racial grievances of aging whites, it has had to resort to attacking voter turnout in order to win elections.

Not only are these efforts verifiable, but many Republicans proudly admit to them.

“Of course it’s political,” veteran consultant Carter Wrenn told the Washington Post. “Why else would you do it?”

This isn’t how democracy is supposed to work, of course. The 1965 Voting Right Act was passed specifically to outlaw such efforts, which thrived in the Jim Crow South.

But four years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that states could pass restrictive voting laws without federal approval. Fourteen states did so, all with legislatures controlled by Republicans. These measures did not make voting impossible, merely more difficult, especially for the urban poor.

As intended, voting rates dipped in all these states on Election Day 2016. In Wisconsin, where Trump won by 23,000 votes, new voter identification laws reduced turnout by 200,000 votes. Milwaukee’s poorest neighborhoods alone saw a drop of 41,000 votes.

In North Carolina, GOP lawmakers passed a voter ID law in 2013 that caused voter registration to plummet, before it was abolished in court for being racially discriminatory. Republicans then attempted to purge thousands from the state’s voting rolls, which a federal judge deemed “insane.” Another court noted that lawmakers had “requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices” then crafted a law to disenfranchise African-Americans.

GOP-controlled election boards also slashed early voting sites and reduced their hours in particular counties, especially on Sundays, when African-American churches sponsored “souls to the polls” voting drives. The result was that early voting turnout was 20 percent lower in so-called “suppressed counties” than in other counties. None of these tactics was a secret. The state GOP in North Carolina put out a press release before Election Day bragging that African-American turnout was down by 8.5 percent in early voting.

The list goes on and on.

With the president’s publicity-stunt panel gone, Democrats should highlight the true threat to our democratic integrity: Politicians and propagandists who openly attempt to steal elections, year after year, by rigging the system.

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Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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