From purging voter rolls to superseding city governments to reviving the ‘drug war,’ Republicans are trying to make ‘Them’ illegal. (More)
“Right now we err on the side of letting people’s names linger on the voter rolls rather than pushing them off prematurely”
Your county’s list of registered voters is almost certainly wrong. It includes at least some people who have died, moved away, or moved to another address within the county. In a perfect world, people who died wouldn’t be on any voter list, people who moved away wouldn’t be in your county’s list, and people who moved within the county would be updated with their new precincts. Your county’s list also includes women who’ve recently married or divorced and whose registrations should be updated with their new names and signatures.
Add it all up and there may be dozens or hundreds of registered voters who shouldn’t be on your county’s rolls under their current names and addresses. But the overwhelming majority were eligible voters when they registered and – most important – almost none of those registrations will result in a fraudulent vote being cast.
In June 2014, [Noxubee County, Mississippi election commissioner Willie] Miller and her four fellow election commissioners received a letter threatening legal action if they did not purge voters from the rolls. The letter came from the American Civil Rights Union (ACRU), a Virginia-based group that has fashioned itself in recent years as a conservative counterpart to the ACLU. The ACRU requested that the commissioners reduce the number of registered voters by the midterm elections that fall because, it claimed, there were more people registered than there were voting-age citizens in the county. The commissioners wanted to fight back, but lacking the funds to hire an attorney, they decided not to respond and waited to see what would happen next.
The letter they had received was one of many that the ACRU had started sending to small, rural counties across Mississippi, Texas, Kentucky, Alabama, and Arizona the year before. These letters were part of a legal campaign spearheaded by three former Justice Department officials from the George W. Bush administration to purge voter rolls across the country. The effort began in remote areas with few resources for legal defense, but recently it’s expanded to include population centers in key swing states. Voting rights advocates worry that the campaign is targeting minorities and likely Democratic voters.
With a consent decree close to being forced upon the county, she reached out to Wilbur Colom, an attorney in nearby Columbus, Mississippi, who had represented the county when the Justice Department had sued in 2005. Colom, who is African American, believed that the mass mailing the ACRU sought was designed to remove poor and minority voters from the rolls. “This is an old technique,” he says, adding, “We had to go through these processes in the ’70s and ‘80s.” He agreed to take the case pro bono.
“They had no evidence, not a single incident of any illegal vote being counted or being cast,” Colom says. (The ACRU never cited an incident of fraud in its court filings.) “There was never any intention to improve the integrity of voting. The purpose was to clean the rolls and to make sure Democrats had fewer votes.”
Remember the U.S. Attorney Scandal that blew up in 2006? That was about firing federal prosecutors who refused to aggressively target Democratic elected officials or Democratic voters. The people who orchestrated those firings … are the ones filing these lawsuits.
Ultimately, the Noxubee County commissioners were forced to sign the decree, which required them to send out verification cards to every voter and purge anyone who didn’t return the card. Miller and the other commissioners are actively reaching out to any voters whose cards weren’t returned, to find out if they’ve died, moved away, or simply moved within the county and need to update their registrations.
All of this is the right-wing response to the 1993 National Voter Registration Act, most commonly known as the Motor Voter Law because it allows DMV officials to register eligible voters when they apply for drivers’ licenses:
In order to win broader support from Republicans, lawmakers added a requirement that states make a “reasonable effort” to keep the rolls up to date. It is under these list maintenance provisions that Adams and Coates sue counties to purge their voter rolls, with Popper preparing to join that effort. But the cases’ allegation that the counties have too many people on the rolls is not proof of a violation of the law. The NVRA also sought to protect eligible voters from purges by placing restrictions on when and how names could be removed. Election officials can’t take people off the rolls without specific indications that they are no longer eligible, and as a result, voter rolls often lag behind population shifts, particularly in rural areas where the population is decreasing. “Right now we err on the side of letting people’s names linger on the voter rolls rather than pushing them off prematurely,” says Burden, adding, “Registration rolls do have people on them who are not eligible to vote in those places, but that’s by design.”
But the wingnut attorneys disagree. One argues that anyone who doesn’t vote in an election should be purged from the rolls, because “it’s easy to register to vote.” And that’s true, unless you don’t find out you’ve been purged until the next time you show up to vote. Turnout in off-year elections is ridiculously low, especially among voters who typically vote for Democrats in presidential elections. Purging them without notice, because they didn’t vote in a county library board special election, is a great way to help Republicans win federal and statewide races.
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but….”
Another good way to help Republicans win elections … invent reasons to arrest and convict Democrats of felonies, as Harpers’ Dan Baum explained last year:
At the time, I was writing a book about the politics of drug prohibition. I started to ask [Nixon aide John] Ehrlichman a series of earnest, wonky questions that he impatiently waved away. “You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Despite the growing public feeling that the drug war has failed, Attorney General John Ashcroft has declared that he wants to escalate it. “”I want to renew it,”” he told CNN’s Larry King. “”I want to refresh it, relaunch it if you will.”” And Bush’s nominees to fight the drug war have joined in Ashcroft’s chorus. John Walters, the new drug czar, and Asa Hutchinson, the choice to head the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), are promising ever more interdiction, incarceration and arrests.
As the nation prepares to careen further down this pernicious path, the drug war’s costs urge a different course. Today, thanks in no small part to harsh sentences for drug crimes, especially for low-level nonviolent offenses, almost two million people fill the prisons and jails of the United States.3 The population of this vast American Gulag, if brought together in a territory of its own, would rank as the 35th most populous state, just surpassing Nevada’s 1.99 million residents. While incarceration rates for non-drug crimes have remained remarkably stable over many decades, the drug war has provided a new, ever increasing supply of prisoners over the past 15 years. With 5% of the world’s population, the United States now holds 25% of the world’s prisoners, winning it the dubious title of the world’s leading jailer. The rate at which we lock up our citizens now surpasses every other country that has ever kept such statistics.
Pervasive racial targeting provides another peculiarly U.S. stamp to the drug war. We are incarcerating African-American men at a rate approximately four times the rate of incarceration of black men in South Africa under apartheid.5 Worse still, we have managed to replicate-at least on a statistical level-the shame of chattel slavery in this country: The number of black men in prison (792,000) has already equaled the number of men enslaved in 1820. With the current momentum of the drug war fueling an ever expanding prison-industrial complex, if current trends continue, only 15 years remain before the United States incarcerates as many African-American men as were forced into chattel bondage at slavery’s peak, in 1860.
The war on drugs thus offers seamless continuity with the most shameful episodes of our past. Slaves were bound in plantations from which they could not escape. Now, it is prisons that deprive black men of their freedom. For African-American men between the ages of 20 and 29, almost one in three are currently under the thumb of the criminal justice system.
The so-called ‘War on Drugs’ remains a war on people of color. A 2013 ACLU report found that, while white and black Americans are equally likely to use marijuana, black Americans are four times more likely to be arrested, charged, and convicted, and a 2013 Pew Research study found that black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than are white men.
Mass incarceration is a trifecta for Republicans. Most of the arrests are in predominantly-Democratic cities, while most of the prisons are in predominantly-Republican rural counties. So mass incarceration (1) reduces the populations of predominantly-Democratic cities; (2) inflates the populations of predominantly-Republican counties, but without adding eligible voters; and, (3) provides workers who can be forced to labor for sub-minimum wages – or ‘privileges’ like visitation and phone access – because the Thirteenth Amendment includes an exception for criminal convictions.
And just in case your Democratic city government tries to carve out some breathing space …
“It is about power, and I think it’s about wielding power at any cost”
In the last few years, Republican-controlled state legislatures have intensified the use of what are known as pre-emption laws, to block towns and cities from adopting measures favored by the left. The states aren’t merely overruling local laws; they’ve walled off whole new realms where local governments aren’t allowed to govern at all.
The pattern has worsened a different kind of partisan war beyond Washington, where the political divide cuts not just across the aisle, but across different levels of government. As standoffs between red states and blue cities grow more rancorous, the tactics of pre-emption laws have become personal and punitive: Several states are now threatening to withhold resources from communities that defy them and to hold their elected officials legally and financially liable.
A law passed in Arizona last year threatens to withhold shared state revenue from local governments that adopt ordinances in conflict with state policy. Texas’ new sanctuary city law imposes civil fines as high as $25,500 a day on local governments and officials who block cooperation with federal immigration requests. And it threatens officials who flout the law with removal from office and misdemeanor charges.
“It is about power, and I think it’s about wielding power at any cost. That’s it,” said Andrew Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, Fla., who formed a national group to fight pre-emption laws this year. Now that Republicans control both legislative chambers in 32 states and the governor’s office on top of that in 25, he said, their slogans lionizing local government ring hollow. “They only mean that,” Mr. Gillum said, “to the extent that they’re in control.”
That includes filing lawsuits or even criminal charges against Democratic city officials who propose ordinances that state-level Republicans have rejected, such as higher minimum wages, protection from discrimination against LGBTs, or even protection from discrimination because you’re a woman who uses birth control. Yes, really.
So while Democrats are told we need to “tone down our rhetoric” – Republicans are using the power of government to criminalize people who vote for or are elected by Democrats.
And they have the gall to wonder why we object to the God-King’s voter fraud commission demanding names, addresses, birthdates, and social security numbers….
Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla (Getty Images)
Good day and good nuts