Stacey Abrams, who has refused to concede her gubernatorial race in Georgia against the state’s Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, has had little recourse to address her concerns that Kemp used his role as Georgia’s chief election official to aid his campaign by making it harder for black people to vote. President Donald Trump’s Justice Department has demonstrated little to no interest in investigating or upholding voting and civil rights laws. Republicans in Congress have shown no interest in standing up for voting rights. And Trump and congressional Republicans spent the past two years attempting to justify laws that make it harder to vote by investigating baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.
But now that Democrats won control of the House of Representatives, that’s all about to change. Power will shift from a nearly all-white political party that refuses to support a reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act to a multiracial political party that announced its first act of 2019 will be to pass legislation greatly expanding voting rights. Key Democrats are giving signs that they will investigate voter suppression in the 2018 elections.
“Voting rights will return to being a high priority for Congress in the session that gets under way in January, and particular attention will be given to widespread allegations of vote suppression in places like Georgia, Tennessee, North Dakota and elsewhere,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), the ranking member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, said in a statement to HuffPost. “I expect the Judiciary Committee will want to hold early hearings. Voting rights are a cornerstone of our democracy and we can’t permit them to be eroded.”
Cohen is the likely next chairman of his subcommittee, which is the first layer of oversight in the House for federal voting and civil rights issues. If he takes that gavel, he will replace current chairman Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), an outspoken white supremacist who used the committee to support voter suppression laws.
There are a number of potential lines of investigation into alleged voter suppression for Democrats when they take control of the House in January.
The election in Georgia will be at the top of the list, as Kemp used his official position to help his campaign by purging voter rolls and reducing voting access in African-American communities. There is no shortage of problems that emerged from this election. In a highly aggressive attempt to clean up the voter rolls, Kemp’s office removed 1.5 million registered voters’ names from those rolls. He also instituted an exact match system that canceled voter registrations that did not have the exact same spelling for names as they appear in other government databases. That system kept 53,000 voters, 70 percent of them African-American, from being able to register, according to the Associated Press. Kemp’s office closed over 200 polling places since 2012 and wanted to close more, especially ones in heavily African-American neighborhoods, but was prevented by a court order. Newly combined polling locations did not receive extra voting machines for Election Day, leading to waits of more than four hours at some sites.
Democrats in the House and Senate previously asked the Justice Department to investigate what was happening in Georgia. The Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter in October to then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions calling on the department to investigate Kemp’s exact match policy and the closure of voting locations in predominantly African-American locations. After the elections, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) sent a letter asking the department to investigate whether the state’s election changes violated the Voting Rights Act.
In North Dakota, Native American activists sued the state over its voter ID law, claiming that it discriminated against tribal communities that lack street addresses. A judge rejected the lawsuit before voting began, but did so by stating the suit came too close to the election. A committee investigation could help highlight the problems that Native Americans face from voter ID and other restrictive voting laws.
Other questions about voter suppression emerged in Missouri, where a court tossed part of the state’s controversial voter ID law just before the election, and in Tennessee, where the NAACP and the Tennessee Black Voter Project sued over allegedly improperly invalidated voter registrations, mostly in heavily African-American counties.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated the NAACP and Tennessee Black Voter Project sued over allegedly improperly invalidated ballots; they sued over voter registrations. Language has also been amended to clarify that a Missouri court did not toss the entirety of the state’s voter ID law.