April 8, 2020

Winning by Cheating

Guest Opinion
By Amy Kerr Hardin | March 21, 2020

An African American man was refused the right to vote in the 2018 Alabama midterms. Why? Because records indicated he owed money to the state — four dollars, to be precise. 
 
Sadly, this is not an anomaly. Thirty states have rules in place that essentially amount to a modern-day poll tax, requiring voters to be paid up on debts before casting a ballot. These laws are intentionally targeted at populations struggling with even small obligations, which are almost always communities of color.
 
A Texas man, again an African American, took time off from his two jobs to stand in line for six hours waiting to vote in the Democratic primary on Super Tuesday. He cast his ballot at 1:30am.
 
Lone Star State Republicans have realized their goal of making voting a very difficult process in this election cycle. In 2012 the state had one polling station per 4,000 residents. Currently it’s one per 7,700 people of voting age. Texas has shuttered 750 polling locations statewide — mostly in black and Latino communities.
 
In 2013 the United States Supreme Court struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a ruling that has led to a flood of voter suppression laws being passed in Republican-controlled state legislatures, Michigan included. State by state, restrictions are being enacted that are specifically designed to suppress the vote in Democratic districts, and particularly in communities of color.
 
Citing cost savings, they are closing polling places, but fiscal responsibility has little to do with it. A number of states have taken to purging voter rolls over innocuous reasons like not casting a vote in recent elections. But they are voiding ballots cast, claiming the signatures do not match records.
 
Arizona passed a restriction that bans ballot-collection operations, a law which likely impacted the 2016 election. The ban was eventually struck down by a federal appeals court, citing that it was a violation of what little remains of the tattered Voting Rights Act.
 
Florida residents overwhelmingly supported an initiative allowing former felons to vote after they’d served their time. Republican lawmakers in the Sunshine State are doing everything they can to block the law. One of the multiple schemes targeting ex-cons is barring them from voting if they haven’t paid court-issued fees and fines — a practice the courts have ruled is tantamount to a poll tax. It’s a clear violation of the Equal Protection Clause found in the 14thAmendment.
 
Tennessee Republicans passed a law making it a criminal offense to help people register to vote.
 
South Carolina lawmakers enacted a statute requiring voters to list their full social security number on registration forms in the hopes that some voters may not know their numbers when they go to register. Among that group would be younger voters who, unlike Baby Boomers, have not yet memorized that number.  Another (non-voting related) aspect to this requirement is this: How secure is the South Carolina database? Passing a law advertising that Social Security numbers are on file at county clerk offices seems like an invitation to hackers.
 
And in Michigan, efforts to thwart voter turnout are alive and well among Republican lawmakers, and in the process of being hashed out in the courts.
 
The GOP-led legislature enacted laws, signed by former Gov. Snyder, which criminalize helping to deliver absentee ballots and the hiring of drivers to deliver people to their polling place.
 
Democrats are suing the state to void these voter-suppression laws. Republicans, not to be outdone, want in on the action and have petitioned the court to be added to the lawsuit as a defendant. It is questionable as to whether they have legal standing to do so, but they have pledged to throw massive resources at the issue.
 
As expected, Michigan Republicans are cloaking their bogus legal argument as an effort to protect the democratic process — a disingenuous claim that hopefully won’t stand up in the courts.
 
For those who truly care about the democratic process, the fight is on.
 
In the wake of her narrow, and questionable, defeat in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election, Democrat Stacy Abrams has sprung into action. Her loss is linked to an obvious case of voter suppression by her opponent who was in a position of power allowing him to do so. Abrams, working with Fair Fight Action, an advocacy group promoting fair elections, has filed suit against her rival, Republican Brian Kemp. He was the Georgia Secretary of State during the election. The suit states that Kemp “grossly mismanaged” the election to his benefit. One of the most disturbing aspects of the incident is that he did it in plain sight. He showed no shame for his actions.
 
One can’t help but wonder if Republicans would attempt to re-enact the “jelly bean test” of the Jim Crow days if they could get away with it. There was a time when African Americans could only vote if they could accurately guess how many jelly beans were in a jar.
 
Michigan voters should see some relief from this Republican attack on the democratic process after we put an end to gerrymandering – the process of drawing voting district lines to favor one party over the other, in this case Republicans. A citizen-driven law was passed to put the practice in the rearview mirror.
 
Republicans can’t win by winning, so they win by cheating. That’s about to end.
 
Amy Kerr Hardin is a retired banker, regionally known artist, and public-policy wonk. You can hear and learn more about the state of Michigan politics on her podcast, www.MichiganPolicast.com.

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