Emboldened Republicans push state-level voting restrictions


Efforts in Michigan, New Hampshire, and Texas to roll back voting rights may go unchallenged if Sessions becomes Attorney General.CREDIT: AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisStrict new voting laws in key swing states were a significant factor in the outcome of the 2016 election, and may have deterred or prevented hundreds of thousands of eligible voters from casting a ballot. Only four people — out of hundreds of millions — were found to have committed voter fraud this year. Yet Republicans are now using baseless claims of widespread voter fraud to, in the words of New York Magazine, “declare permanent open season on voting rights.”Already, just a few weeks after the election, several Republican-controlled states are moving such bills forward, while others have announced plans to do so. And as President-elect Donald Trump signals his intention to appoint cabinet members who have clashed with voting rights laws, these bills have a higher likelihood of going unchallenged in the years to come.MichiganAs officials in Michigan debate whether to allow a recount of this past election’s ballots, lawmakers are already moving to impose more restrictions for future elections. The bill Republicans have fast-tracked would require voters to present a government ID at the polls or be given a provisional ballot, which wouldn’t count unless they returned with the proper ID within 10 days of the election.Currently, Michigan voters are asked to show an ID, but those who don’t have one can sign a legally-binding affidavit and still vote on a regular ballot. More than 18,000 people voted with an affidavit this year. Donald Trump won the state by just over 10,000 votes.“This is a way to keep people who don’t vote for Republicans from voting,” said Lonnie Scott, the executive director of Progress Michigan. “Minority and lower-income communities may not have access to IDs, and these are the people disproportionately impacted by laws like this.”The bill, which could come up for a vote as early as Tuesday, has a provision tucked it that would make it impossible to repeal via a popular referendum. Scott expects both the House and Senate to approve to. “If it starts to move, it’s going to be very hard to stop it,” he said.TexasThanks to a rapidly diversifying population, and federal court rulings that eased the state’s strict voter ID law, Democrats gained significant ground in Texas this year. But even as the state continues to fight federal charges that they passed voter ID laws with the intent of suppressing black and Latino voters, the state’s Republican leaders cite the implementation of a new voter ID law as one of their top priorities.As many as 600,000 otherwise eligible Texans do not have an acceptable government ID, and many do not have the economic means to acquire one. In one of many trials over the law, an expert testified that “Hispanic registered voters and Black registered voters were respectively 195% and 305% more likely than their Anglo peers to lack” voter ID.President Obama’s Justice Department has pushed back against Texas’ ID law since it was implemented in 2011, calling it unconstitutionally discriminatory. President Trump’s Justice Department is unlikely to do the same.New HampshireSoon after winning the governor’s race in New Hampshire, Chris Sununu announced his intent to repeal the state’s policy of same-day voter registration.His justification? “Most states don’t have it. There’s a reason. It can cause problems,” he told New Hampshire Public Radio.New Hampshire is one of 13 states — plus D.C. — that allow voters to register and cast a ballot on Election Day. Studies in those states have found that allowing same-day voter registration boosts turnout by between seven and fourteen percentage points. The policy especially helps students, residents of color, and lower-income voters, who are less likely to have the time and transportation options necessary to make separate trips to register and to vote. This year, with the help of same-day registration, New Hampshire had the highest primary turnout in the nation.Other states that have recently tried to eliminate this option for voters, including Ohio and North Carolina, were hit with voting rights lawsuits. Ohio successfully scrapped the policy, while North Carolina was forced to reinstate it.Federal friend vs. federal foeAs Donald Trump moves to appoint cabinet members with a history of hostility to voting rights, civil rights advocates expect an escalation of such restrictive policies in the years to come.Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, has referred to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as a “piece of intrusive legislation.” Last year, he told ThinkProgress the Supreme Court was “probably correct” to gut the federal voting protections. As a federal prosecutor in Alabama in the 1980s, Sessions led a witch hunt targeting civil rights workers who were registering elderly black voters and helping them get absentee ballots. He couldn’t secure a single conviction. Just before this year’s election, he falsely accused President Obama of encouraging undocumented immigrants to cast ballots illegally. The president had in fact encouraged Latino citizens to vote.Voting right advocates are also expressing alarm that Trump is considering Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach for a cabinet post. Kobach, who has partnered with anti-immigrant and white supremacist organizations, led a multi-year crusade to purge thousands of eligible voters from rolls who could not produce documents proving their citizenship. When multiple courts found the policy violated federal law, he launched an unsuccessful campaign to force the federal Election Assistance Commission to change the law. He only agreed to comply with the federal law after being threatened with contempt of court.After Hillary Clinton bested Donald Trump in the popular vote by more than 2.5 million people, Kobach made a baseless claim that millions of non-citizens voted illegally for Clinton. When he showed up for his job interview with Trump, photographers captured a document in his hand seemingly outlining his plans to impose a national proof of citizenship requirement for voting and purge the federal rolls of all who cannot produce it.Should the Senate confirm Sessions and Kobach to cabinet posts, lawmakers across the country may feel emboldened to pass even more new voting restrictions on the state level, as they will likely face little to no opposition from Washington.Emboldened Republicans push state-level voting restrictions was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.


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