Voting rights have been taking the news cycles by storm due to Trump’s establishment of a “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity”. If you are looking for a more in-depth post about the history of the voting rights please read this post and for information on the “National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC)” please read this post. This is an update for the current conversation surrounding voting rights and Trump’s new commission.
So..what actually is the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity?
This commission has been publicized as Trump following through on another promise to the voters. After his loss of the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, Trump told members of Congress privately (and the US on Twitter) that three million to five million undocumented immigrants had voted illegally for Hillary Clinton, which is what cost him the popular vote.
In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 27, 2016
I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 25, 2017
According to the Trump administration, this commission was founded to “study 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 will also study concerns about voter suppression, as well as other voting irregularities. The Commission will utilize all available data, including state and federal databases.” Trump appointed Vice President Mike Pence as Chairman and Kansas Secretary Kris Kobach the Vice-Chair of the Commission.
When addressing his appointment to the commission, Secretary Kobach stated, “As the chief election officer of a state, ensuring the integrity of elections is my number one responsibility. The work of this commission will assist all state elections officials in the country in understanding, and addressing, the problem of voter fraud.”
The foundation of this commission has been met with extreme opposition from many different people and groups across the United States in fears that it can lead to massive voter suppression. When speaking about Kobach’s appointment, Dale Ho, the director of the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said “He’s a person who has built a political career on xenophobia. It’s worked great for him, but not for the people he has disenfranchised.” The ACLU has sued Kobach four times on voter suppression – and won every case. See more from Dale Ho’s interview about this matter here.
Vice-Chair Secretary Kobach, has a reputation for being an “advocate for tough voting rules” and attempting to investigate voter fraud. Since he took office in 2011, Kobach has been an integral part in Kansas passing some of some of the nation’s most rigorous voting restrictions – requiring new voters to produce a passport, a birth certificate or naturalization papers as proof of citizenship – the SAFE Act. He has claimed to have uncovered 125 illegally registered noncitizens out of 1.8 million Kansans on the voting rolls. Kobach was also the architect behind Arizona’s SB 1070 and Alabama’s HB 56, two of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant pieces of state legislation.
Check out this article from the New York Times about the “scant” evidence of voter fraud since the “crackdown” began under the Bush administration and this article from NPR about the possible ‘chilling effect’ the commission could have on voting rights.
Voter ID Laws vs Voter Suppression
The main issue with this commission is not necessarily the creation of it, but where who is in charge can take it. Many people believe it will lead to massive voter suppression through changes to registration, types of voting allowed and ID laws. What is voter suppression you ask? Voter suppression is a strategy to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing people from voting. Voter ID laws are laws that require a person to provide some form of official identification before they are permitted to register to vote, receive a ballot for an election, or to actually vote.
According to Forbes, studies have found that voter ID laws can end up costing the American tax payer anywhere between $4.3 million to $11 million. These costs include campaigns aimed at passing the laws, hiring people to enforce the laws, issuing “free IDs” at the cost of the state, transporting the people to agencies to obtain their IDs, etc.
Here is a map from the National Conference of State Legislators pertaining to current voter ID requirements.
It is hard to look at the context of these ID laws and think that they are not meant to target people in certain, marginalized groups. The difficult process of obtaining an ID and the resources associated with it, make it difficult for people who are disabled, who work or who do not have access to the means to get to and pay for an ID – often American minorities. For example, in Texas a concealed carry permit counts as ID, but a student ID does not count.
So, even though academic studies regularly show (and most state election officials agree) that fraud is rare and we know implementing these laws will costs states millions, why do Republicans continue to advocate for these policies?
What Can Make this Better?
Many people think that opening up registering to vote is the real opportunity for civic engagement. An example of this is automatically registering people in your state to vote like the laws in Oregon, California, West Virginia, Vermont and Connecticut allow. Same day registration and expanding access to voting (early voting and vote by mail) are also powerful tools for expanding access.
The election is set for the Tuesday after the first Monday of November a work day. The United States could do many things besides increasing access to early voting like consolidating the schedule, moving the election to weekend or declaring election day a holiday.
On Monday, May 15, 2017, the Supreme Court announced it would not hear North Carolina v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, a challenge to North Carolina’s omnibus voter suppression law. H589 was passed back in 2013 and created stringent requirements for voter ID, excluding IDs most commonly used by black voters; slashed early voting; eliminated same-day registration; killed preregistration for teenagers; and ended out-of-precinct voting for voters who inadvertently showed up at the incorrect precinct in the right county.
Other bills that are currently up for consideration range in their purpose. Below is a map of the current bills having to do with voter registration. voter ID, early voting and absentee/mail voting.
NJ AR52 wants to require Social Security cards to have photograph of cardholder and be displayed before voting in federal elections and GA SB34 looks to remove certain requirements regarding proof when voting.
AL HB31 establishing an early voting procedure, AZ HB2351 extending voting hours and early voting locations and MS HB303 requires the Secretary of State to authorize early voting for overseas military.
AR HB1004 creates the Democracy Act which requires automatic voter registration, NJ A1387 requires voter registration forms be made available when applying for hunting, fishing, or trapping license and NY A02278 Enacts the “voter empowerment act of New York” to streamline the process for registering to vote.