Trump is fail­ing to pur­sue ac­tual voter rights vi­o­la­tions

Greenwich Time - - OPINION - Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Wash­ing­ton bureau chief of the Dal­las Morn­ing News. Email: carl.p.leubsdorf@gmail.com.

Eight months af­ter the col­lapse of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s voter fraud com­mis­sion, his ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­newed pur­suit of its un­proven con­tentions of im­proper vot­ing, this time with a mas­sive doc­u­ment search in North Carolina.

It fol­lowed the in­dict­ment of 19 for­eign na­tion­als for al­legedly vot­ing il­le­gally there in 2016, when 4.7 mil­lion bal­lots were cast in the state.

Iron­i­cally, the sweep­ing de­mands came as an in­de­pen­dent fed­eral panel is­sued a mas­sive new re­port, ac­cus­ing the fed­eral govern­ment of fail­ing to pur­sue ac­tual Vot­ing Rights Act vi­o­la­tions and confirming the wide­spread view that state-en­acted re­stric­tions like voter ID laws make it harder for mi­nori­ties and poor peo­ple to vote.

The re­port, by the bi­par­ti­san U.S. Com­mis­sion on Civil Rights, pro­vides the govern­ment’s most de­tailed doc­u­men­ta­tion to date of the im­pact from re­duced fed­eral vot­ing rights en­force­ment and the re­stric­tive mea­sures en­acted in 23 states, mainly by Re­pub­li­can gov­er­nors and leg­is­la­tures.

Some prob­lems stem from the 2013 Supreme Court de­ci­sion that threw out a key pro­vi­sion in the 1965 Vot­ing Rights Act re­quir­ing Jus­tice Depart­ment pre-clear­ance of vot­ing law changes in spec­i­fied states with a his­tory of dis­crim­i­na­tion, in­clud­ing Texas.

“Ju­ris­dic­tions have made changes in their vot­ing pro­ce­dures that would not have re­ceived the fed­eral govern­ment’s ap­proval,” the 498-page re­port says, cit­ing strict voter ID laws, purg­ing of reg­is­tra­tion rolls, re­duc­tion of polling times and de­mands for proof of cit­i­zen­ship that many poor vot­ers can’t pro­duce.

The panel, con­sist­ing of four Democrats, three in­de­pen­dents and one Re­pub­li­can, crit­i­cized both the Obama and Trump ad­min­is­tra­tions, not­ing Jus­tice Depart­ment ac­tions against vot­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion, in­clud­ing fed­eral elec­tion mon­i­tor­ing, “have gen­er­ally de­clined” over the past decade.

Since 2013, it added, the govern­ment has only filed four of the 61 suits brought un­der a sep­a­rate Vot­ing Rights Act sec­tion re­quir­ing proof changes ac­tu­ally dam­aged mi­nor­ity vot­ers. Pri­vate groups filed the oth­ers.

Though the re­port avoided di­rectly par­ti­san al­le­ga­tions, it noted that “sev­eral vot­ing rights ex­perts” said the 2017 re­ver­sal of its prior op­po­si­tion to the Texas voter ID law raised “se­ri­ous qualms about the fu­ture of the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s vot­ing rights en­force­ment ef­forts.”

And the panel cast broad doubt on claims by Trump and other Repub­li­cans of a na­tional voter fraud prob­lem, cit­ing a va­ri­ety of stud­ies show­ing ex­am­ples of ac­tual fraud are quite low and some mea­sures de­signed to pre­vent it are them­selves rid­dled with er­rors.

As for the re­stric­tive state mea­sures, four of the eight com­mis­sion mem­bers said, “It is no sur­prise that the overly strin­gent voter ID laws stud­ied in our re­port are all largely en­acted by con­ser­va­tive­con­trolled states,” aimed at mi­nor­ity groups who are “on the cusp of be­ing able to ex­er­cise po­lit­i­cal power and are be­lieved to lean Demo­cratic.”

It sin­gles out Texas, which “has the high­est num­ber of re­cent VRA (Vot­ing Rights Act) vi­o­la­tions in the na­tion,” and North Carolina, where fed­eral judges have in­val­i­dated an ar­ray of re­stric­tive vot­ing laws and reap­por­tion­ment plans as dis­crim­i­na­tory.

But that has not de­terred the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion. Three weeks ago, act­ing at the be­hest of the Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment agency, U.S. At­tor­ney Robert Hig­don sub­poe­naed more than 2 mil­lion bal­lots and 15 mil­lion vot­ing records for the past eight years.

Hig­don also de­manded eight years of records from the state’s Depart­ment of Mo­tor Ve­hi­cles. Un­der a 1993 fed­eral law, res­i­dents seek­ing or re­new­ing driv­ers’ li­censes must be of­fered an op­por­tu­nity to regis­ter to vote.

Trump’s com­mis­sion dis­banded amid a flurry of law­suits and state re­sis­tance to pro­vid­ing records.

A Demo­cratic mem­ber said last month its data showed no ev­i­dence for Trump’s claim that wide­spread voter fraud pro­vided Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 3 mil­lion pop­u­lar vote mar­gin in the 2016 elec­tion. “There’s no real ev­i­dence of it any­where,” Maine Sec­re­tary of State Matthew Dun­lap said.

In its re­port, the Civil Rights Com­mis­sion said the Jus­tice Depart­ment “should rein­vig­o­rate its ef­forts to pro­tect vot­ing rights through height­ened en­force­ment ac­tiv­ity of all of the pro­vi­sions of the VRA.”

It also urged Congress to re­store a re­vised ver­sion of the depart­ment’s pre-clear­ance author­ity.

But that is not likely any­time soon, given the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to re­duce vot­ing rights en­force­ment — plus Re­pub­li­can re­sis­tance in Congress.

If the Democrats win the House, how­ever, they can hold hear­ings on the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s fail­ures to pro­tect vot­ing rights that would at least put a spot­light on an is­sue that strikes at the heart of Amer­i­can democ­racy, us­ing le­gal author­ity to make vot­ing harder for your po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

“Ju­ris­dic­tions have made changes in their vot­ing pro­ce­dures that would not have re­ceived the fed­eral govern­ment’s ap­proval,” the 498-page re­port says.

Robert F. Bukaty / As­so­ci­ated Press

Maine Sec­re­tary of State Matthew Dun­lap

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