The myth of “rampant voter fraud” is tarnishing the moral fabric of our country. Despite having no substantial evidence of its legitimacy, elected officials continue to implement systematic changes to voting policies in order to combat it. Their efforts intimidate voters and keep them from casting their ballots.
The latest round of assaults comes with the formation of President Trump’s bipartisan Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the Commission is nothing more than a modern voter intimidation tactic. Both of these men have been instrumental in perpetuating the myth of voter fraud and driving an increase in voter suppression legislation.
Last year, during his tenure as governor of Indiana, now Vice President Mike Pence found himself at the center of a political scandal for shutting down a major voter registration drive. The registration drive was administered by The Indiana Voter Registration Project and it was aimed at signing up African-American voters who had little or no access to voting. One week before the state’s voter registration deadline, then Governor Pence permitted the state police to raid the project’s office, where they seized computers, cellphones, and records. Pence later claimed that the state police had uncovered strong evidence of voter fraud during an investigation into the project, and the raid was not an attempt to suppress voters.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s voting rights track record is equally alarming. He is responsible for launching the controversial Interstate Crosscheck program in 2005. The program’s goal is to compare voter registration data across states, using full names and birth dates, to remove fraudulent records and prevent people from double voting. So far, there is no evidence that Crosscheck uncovered any voter fraud, yet Mr. Kobach continues to spend millions of dollars on a solution to a nonexistent problem. In the meantime, legitimate voters are being unjustifiably removed from the voting rolls.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the Interstate Crosscheck program has expanded to 30 states since its inception. Research has found that in one tally the program flagged 7.2 million possible double registrants, but no more than 4 citizens were charged for deliberate double registration or voting. The design of the program has been criticized, since voters with common names in different states might be flagged as fraudulent. This has severe implications for how many voters may be constrained from voting in lieu of protecting “voter integrity.”
In his first official act as co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, Kris Kobach asked election officials in each of the 50 states to provide him with “publicly-available voter roll data.” This data includes voters’ full names, addresses, dates of birth, political party, last four digits of social security numbers, felony convictions, and a host of other information. Most states have not obliged to the request, wary of the lack of transparency regarding the use of the information. Many civil rights organizations also came out in opposition of the request out of fear Kobach may try to instill many of the tactics he has used in Kansas to disenfranchise voters throughout the country.
Undoubtedly, the request had the kind of response Mr. Kobach hoped for. Voters in Colorado, Florida, and North Carolina are asking their states to remove them from voter rolls before the information is turned over to the Commission. Under the pretext of “protecting voter integrity,” Pence and Kobach are launching a modern-day assault on our most basic rights.
Although it is too early to assess the severity of the effects the commission will have on voting rights, it is extremely disturbing that our elected officials are taking steps to make voting harder and instituting laws and practices that intimidate and eliminate eligible voters. This is borne out by the increase in voter suppression legislation throughout the country. Increases in voter ID requirements, cutbacks on early voting, restrictions on access to polling places, and a host of other policies and practices have voters feeling disempowered.
In the 1960s, murder and intimidation were used to obstruct people from voting. Young people like my brother, Andrew Goodman, lost their lives to expand voting rights for all Americans. As we envision America’s future, we must reflect on the progress we’ve made since the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, instead of trying to come up with new ways to intimidate and suppress the vote.
Silence and apathy will do us no good as we work to protect our voting rights. We need to make noise. We need to organize, form coalitions, and build a movement that speaks up for a participatory democracy, where potential voters aren’t hindered from engaging in the political process. It’s critical that the role of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity and the increase of voter suppression legislation are assessed so that no party is intensifying barriers to voting. When Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney traveled to Mississippi, they traveled as advocates of others and of the ideals our country represents. We need to continue their legacy.