Voting wars: The fight for the franchise heats up

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Ultra-conservative Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program is just one example of voter-suppression tactics used in Virginia.  Courtesy photo Ultra-conservative Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program is just one example of voter-suppression tactics used in Virginia. Courtesy photo

There’s a basic truism in modern American politics: The more people vote, the more Democrats win. This trend began in 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. This, in turn, prompted Richard Nixon’s electoral “southern strategy,” which explicitly courted the racist Dixiecrat wing of the Democratic party, and eventually turned the party of Lincoln into the party of white resentment.

Now, the politics of racial disharmony have worked for the elephants for a very long time. But as it becomes increasingly obvious that demographic trends pose an existential threat to the current incarnation of the Republican Party, GOP leaders have done everything they can to stem the tide.

The most potent current instrument of voter disenfranchisement is racial gerrymandering, which packs a majority of black and brown voters into the fewest possible districts. But voter suppression comes in all shapes and sizes, and—while the Jim Crow era of poll taxes and rigged literacy tests is thankfully gone—there are still a multitude of legal schemes that serve the same discriminatory end.

Until very recently, Virginia was covered by the “preclearance” section of the Voting Rights Act, which required certain states and districts with a history of voter discrimination to clear any changes to the electoral process with the Justice Department. But in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, dispensed with this requirement, paving the way for a flood of new vote-limiting measures, including voter ID laws, restrictions on early voting and limiting or eliminating polling places in Democratic strongholds.

Virginia’s current requirement that voters produce a valid photo ID at the polls—which was passed in 2013, and upheld by a federal judge earlier this year—is just the most visible of the commonwealth’s vote-suppression tactics. A lesser-known, but far more insidious, disenfranchisement tool is the blandly named Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program. As recently detailed by Rolling Stone’s Greg Palast, Crosscheck was created by ultra-conservative Kansas Secretary of State (and Donald Trump adviser) Kris Kobach, who has long insisted that in-person voter fraud is rampant and ongoing across the United States.

Despite the fact that no evidence of widespread voter fraud has ever been uncovered, Kobach has convinced 28 states, including Virginia, to use Crosscheck, which purports to uncover individuals who are registered to vote in more than one state by comparing voter rolls. Problem is, the program basically matches first and last names and little else, providing completely useless data that skews heavily toward minority voters.

How bad is it? When Palast obtained a copy of Virginia’s Crosscheck report, he discovered that, “in all, 342,556 names were listed as apparently registered to vote in both Virginia and another state as of January 2014.” Of those names, 41,637 “inactive” voters were immediately removed from the rolls, while the rest were sent a nondescript postcard asking them to verify their address. (In a delicious irony, it was recently revealed that Trump’s new campaign chief, Steve Bannon, is registered to vote in Florida, a state in which he has never lived.)

It’s schemes like this that represent a true threat to our participatory democracy, not the false specter of voter fraud. And while there are legitimate measures that can be taken to try to level the playing field—like Governor Terry McAuliffe’s ongoing campaign to restore the voting rights of felons who have already paid their debt to society—the real solution will only come with a Hillary Clinton-appointed Supreme Court justice (or two, or three). With the right-wing lock on the nation’s highest court finally broken, we have no doubt that most, if not all, of these blatantly biased voting laws will be deservedly swept aside.

Odd Dominion is an unabashedly liberal, twice-monthly op-ed column covering Virginia politics.

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