Trump is failing to pursue actual voter rights violations
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.
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap