Midterms Put Republican Efforts to Suppress Left-Leaning Voters Back in the Spotlight

Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Photo credit: LBJ School/Flickr

Also see this related TF investigative report by John Lasker: How Republican-Led Voter Suppression is Undermining Democracy in America

With the midterm vote tallies so close in Georgia, Ohio, Texas, and Florida, Republican efforts to suppress and purge left-leaning voters are once again in the spotlight.

“Without a doubt, the stripping of voter rolls, which disproportionately impacts Democrats, is the precursor for Republicans winning close elections,” says Ohio-based voting rights attorney Robert Fitrakis, who co-wrote the book The Strip and Flip Selection of 2016: Five Jim Crows and Electronic Election Theft.

Since 2008, 23 states led by Republican super majorities passed legislation that put tougher restrictions on voting, including stricter voter ID laws and more aggressive voter purge requirements, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

In an investigative report, Toward Freedom recently highlighted several of these laws and how many voting rights experts agree the legislation pushed Trump into the White House in 2016, an election decided by 80,000 votes across Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Stricter voter ID laws in states such as Wisconsin, for example, convinced thousands of urban voters to forego the 2016 presidential election because they believed they did not have qualifying ID when in fact they did, as found by a University of Wisconsin study.

Democrats say many of these laws violate federal voting statutes because they stealthily target African Americans, young people, and left-leaning voters in general.

Republicans contend their tougher voting standards are meant to curb widespread voter fraud, and many of these GOP super-majority states have a Republican Secretary of State who for years enforced these so-called voter integrity laws.

However, during the midterms these same controversial Republican Secretaries of State for both Georgia (Brian Kemp) and Ohio (Jon Husted) were on the ballot running for a higher office, meaning those running the election were also running for election.

Kemp ran against Democrat Stacey Abrams for the governor’s office and the election is still in doubt as Kemp leads by roughly 50,000 votes out of 3.9 million ballots cast.

Leading up to the vote, Kemp’s office attempted to block 53,000 voter registration applications. Seventy percent of these applications were from African Americans and were held up for something as fastidious as a mismatching signature when compared to state records.

Soon after the signature controversy in Georgia, voting rights activist and investigative journalist Greg Palast found Kemp’s office had purged over 500,000 registered voters because they either moved to another state or country. But Palast found 340,000 of those purged never moved and still resided at the address listed on their registration.

The numbers of wrongly purged Georgia voters could be much higher. Georgia removed 1.5 million voters between the 2012 and 2016, and half that number between 2008 and 2012, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

Kemp took office in 2010 and his method of purging these voters is what Palast has called “purge by postcard.” The same strategy was used in Ohio by Republican Secretary of State Jon Husted who was on the governor’s winning ticket this midterm. He too was elected to the Secretary of State’s office in 2010.

Kemp and Husted’s Secretary of State offices sent a postcard to voters who did not vote in two previous federal elections, both primaries and Presidential. If the voter did not return the postcard, or vote in the next federal election, they were purged due to voter inactivity.

Ohio voting rights attorney Fitrakis says under Husted, like in Georgia, the Republican-controlled state has also purged hundreds of thousands during the previous decade, with a majority of those voters based in urban areas.

“With these Secretary of States [offices] running elections there is an inherent conflict of interest. It wouldn’t be allowed in virtually any decent democracy in the world,” Fitrakis says. “And in a state that requires ID, why would you be purging anyone if they have to show ID that matches the address in the book?”

Jeff Radue, a voting rights activist for Indivisible, a national grassroots progressive movement organized to defeat the Trump agenda, says it’s ridiculous to think that Kemp declared himself the winner of Georgia’s governor race when he was still Secretary of State.

“What is really going to be interesting to see after the midterms is how many states adopt legislative action that regulates Secretary of States or the chief election officer of the state, and how they are allowed to run for office and manage an election at the same time,” he says.

“Look at Brian Kemp. You are going to count the votes on election day and then announce ‘I won!’” Radue explains. “I want to see how many states begin the process of establishing ethical requirements and standards for their Secretary of State or chief election officer when they don’t have a board of elections running the election.”

Radue says voting rights groups like the ACLU and Common Cause have continued to push back by challenging the increasing number of voter suppression laws passed at the state level

In 2016, the ACLU sued Ohio’s then Secretary of State Jon Husted, arguing Ohio’s purge process was unlawful. But this summer the conservative-leaning US Supreme Court voted 5-4 in favor of Husted. The ACLU and others fear Ohio’s purge process may be incorporated nationwide, especially in those states controlled by Republicans.

“These lawsuits will be kicked up to the Supreme Court and that’s why the Supreme Court situation with Brett Kavanaugh was so devastating because there’s a really a strong chance they are going to rule in favor of these voter suppression efforts,” Radue says.

Like the Wisconsin strict voter ID law that was found to persuade many to not vote even though they had the proper ID, Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams says it best about the affect voter suppression has overall.

“Voter suppression isn’t only about blocking the vote,” she said during a recent debate. “It is also about creating an atmosphere of fear, making people worry that their votes won’t count.”

Also see this related TF investigative report by John Lasker: How Republican-Led Voter Suppression is Undermining Democracy in America

Originally from Buffalo, NY, John Lasker is a journalist residing in Ohio. Lasker has been producing investigative reports for TowardFreedom.com for over eight years, breaking stories on topics such as resource conflicts in Africa and the race to militarize space. His reporting on sexual violence against women in the military won a 2013 Project Censored Award. See more of his reporting here