Commentary

States Are Right to Oppose Trump on Voter Database

July 7, 2017

By Arturo Castañares / Publisher and CEO

The Trump Administration has requested voter databases from all 50 states in search of what Trump says are millions of illegal voters, but, so far, 45 states have refused to hand over their files, including California’s Secretary of State, Alex Padilla.

On Monday, the White House’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity sent a letter to each Secretary of State asking for every voter’s name, date of birth, last four digits of their Social Security numbers, and voting history for the past 10 years. The stated reason for the data is to check the files for illegal voters, including non-citizens, duplicates, and dead persons still on the voter rolls.

But many opponents argue that the federal government does not have the right to the data as each state is empowered to maintain its own voter systems and carry out their own elections. Most argue that there is no evidence of voter fraud and that Trump is using the issue as an excuse to further intimidate voters in swing states with heavy minority populations, like California, Florida, and Texas.

Voter suppression through laws and even physical intimidation tactics has taken many shapes throughout the past hundred years. From laws like poll taxes that kept poor voters from voting, to Jim Crow laws that required literacy tests, voter suppression has historically been used to keep minority groups from fully exercising their Constitutional right to vote.

In fact, the term “grandfather clause” or “grandfathering” someone comes from laws in mostly southern states in the late 1800s that required literacy tests for voters unless they had a grandfather that had the right to vote before the Civil War, effectively eliminating black voters from participating in elections.

Several states continued to use voter suppression as a weapon against minority groups for 100 years after the Civil War. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that people throughout the country were legally protected from states passing laws to suppress voting.

Since then, voter suppression has taken on more subtle forms to stay within the parameters of the Voting Rights Act, but still has the same chilling effect of voter turnout.

In 1981, during a governor’s race in New Jersey, the Republican National Committee hired armed off-duty police officers to patrol polling placing in African-American and Latino areas wearing armbands that read “National Ballot Security Task Force” with the intent of scaring minority voters. After the election, a court ruled that the RNC had to stop engaging in ballot security activities, but the damage had already been done.

In 1986, the Republican Party was sued in Louisiana for trying to suppress black votes in close Congressional races by challenging voter files to remove people from the rolls. During the lawsuit, a memo was discovered from the Party’s Midwest Political Director telling his colleague that their program could remove as many as 80,000 people, and “could keep the black vote down considerably.”

In 1990, the GOP was again sued for running a program in North Carolina that sent mailers to voters in heavily black areas saying the state law required that voters had to live at the same address for at least 30 days before an election to be eligible to vote. There was no such law.

And it hasn’t stopped. In last year’s presidential election, Donald Trump called on his supporters in Pennsylvania to become “Trump Election Observers” and report suspicious voter activity, whatever that means. Trump also encouraged his supporters to call the police if they suspect voter fraud, which left it up to individuals to decide for themselves what constitutes voter fraud in their eyes. This resulted in numerous complaints of voter intimidation in various states.

Since the election, Trump has claimed (with no evidence whatsoever) that up to 3 million illegal votes were cast, yet not one Secretary of State has validated that claim. A review of the 2016 election found only four cases of voter fraud in the country; two cases of people voting twice, one man that voted for his dead wife, and one woman that marked other people’s absentee ballots in a mayor’s race.

Trump’s trumped up claims of voter fraud seem like just another way to scare susceptible communities to fear going to the polls. It’s nothing more than today’s version of voter intimidation, and, thankfully, state election officials aren’t playing along.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been called the most important law ever passed in this country because it seeks to protect the most basic of our rights: voting to elect our leaders. That right protects all our other rights, and to limit anyone’s ability to vote, disenfranchises that person from our society.

Our State officials must continue to defend our rights, and our states’ rights, against all enemies, foreign and domestic, just as they swore they would do when they took their oath of office.

And, it is each of our individual responsibilities, to then exercise that right in each election.

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