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Thursday, 13 July 2017 06:41

Sessions' Department of Justice Signals It Will Condone Voter Suppression

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votetoday22The Constitution and its amendments establish the right to vote, not the right to suppress votes. (Photo: H2Woah!)

Last week, I wrote on how Trump's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity -- spearheaded by infamous former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach -- may be largely an effort to facilitate suppressing non-GOP voters in future elections. The commission has sent out letters requiring every state to submit individual voter registration information to it. How this will help ensure "election integrity" is anyone's guess. However, it may well place the executive branch in a more commanding position to recommend actions to Congress that will either remove non-Republican voters from the rolls or prevent Democrats and Independents -- many of them people of color, poor people, elderly people and students -- from registering to vote. The Guardian reports that the commission has extended its deadline for state data to be submitted, but there is no indication it is planning any major changes in its mission.

Many Republican actions, particularly at the state and the federal levels, are directly aimed at creating requirements that limit who can vote and who can register to vote. There is historical precedent for this, in that only white male landowners could vote in the years after the United States was founded, and other restrictions were imposed in later years, including the Jim Crow voting laws. Part of this thinking reflects the notion, among those who believe that our society is too multicultural, that only whites should be enfranchised. One can speculate that at least among some GOP voters, the promise Trump holds out of increased non-white voter suppression is part of "Making America Great Again."

After all, Republicans now control the legislatures and governorships in 33 states. This gives them the opportunity to affect election outcomes through a variety of means, including onerous voting registration, polling place voter identification laws, voter purging and gerrymandering, among other methods. Traditionally, states have determined the "technical" aspects of voting eligibility, with exceptions such as federal enforcement of the right to vote by the Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was partially struck down by a narrow Supreme Court ruling in June of 2013.

In this context, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity may bring federal influence to bear, facilitating states' restrictions on the rights of Americans to vote. Furthermore, two recent actions by the Department of Justice (DOJ), under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, give cause for concern that the Trump administration may make this an ongoing federal project. As Talking Points Memo (TPM) reported this week,

The voting rights community isn’t holding its breath for a “report” expected out of President Trump’s sham election commission that advocates predict will be used as a cudgel for restrictive voting laws. They already have a good idea of how the Trump administration, led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, will seek to scale back access to the ballot....

It was signaled clearly in a under-the-radar letter sent by the DOJ to most states late last month. The letter did not get as much as attention as the wide-reaching data request from the Trump election commission ... but voting rights advocates told TPM they find it just as concerning, if not more so.

It’s very clear the intent is to purge more and more groups who possibly don’t vote the way they want them to vote,” League of Women Voters President Chris Carson told TPM....

It indicates that the focus of DOJ is going to be on pushing states to take more and more people off the rolls, instead of enforcing the provisions of the NVRA that assist voters in getting registered and staying on the rolls,” said Brenda Wright, vice president of policy and legal strategies at the progressive policy and legal group Demos.

Talking Points Memo points out that, ironically, the letter from the DOJ invoked the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which made it easier for states to register voters "at the DMV or other government agencies."

This month, Mother Jones also reported that the DOJ "is no longer contesting a stringent Texas voter ID law." The department has withdrawn its objections to a rewritten Texas legislature law that is only somewhat less restrictive than one that was struck down by the courts:

The Justice Department has just made its sharpest break yet with the Obama administration on voting rights, shifting its position on a contested voter ID law in Texas and arguing that additional action is no longer needed to protect the rights of the state’s minority voters....

In 2013, the Justice Department joined voting rights groups in fighting the original voter ID law as intentionally discriminatory. But under President Donald Trump, the government no longer sides with those groups. In February, the Justice Department broke with the plaintiffs when it changed its position and notified the court that it no longer believed the state had intentionally discriminated. On Wednesday, the Justice Department filed a brief arguing that the revised law “eradicates any discriminatory effect or intent” and asking the court to accept the new law and impose no other remedy.

The details of the law -- and its slightly tweaked version -- that are most objectionable have to do with blatant bias in terms of what forms of voter identification are acceptable at the polls.

These actions by Trump's Department of Justice are an ominous indication that "election integrity" may just be a euphemism for voter suppression.