Yes, Voter Suppression Is Real. But Young Voters May Bridge the Gap.

The midterms are rigged against people of color and the poor.

Joel Bleifuss October 29, 2018

We are set to see a record turnout of 18- to 34-year-olds for a midterm election. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The crit­i­cal 2018 midterms will deter­mine whether the 116th Con­gress can put the brakes on Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and the Koch-Adel­son agen­da. The out­stand­ing ques­tion is: Will enough Demo­c­ra­t­ic vot­ers turn out Novem­ber 6 to over­come insti­tu­tion­al­ized efforts at vot­er suppression?

Will enough Democratic voters turn out November 6 to overcome institutionalized efforts at voter suppression?

In 1789, the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion allowed the states to deter­mine which of their res­i­dents would be allowed to par­tic­i­pate in elec­tions. Ini­tial­ly, all states extend­ed the fran­chise only to white men who owned land or paid tax­es. Since then, pro­gres­sive activists have fought — and died — to secure vot­ing rights, while the forces of reac­tion, present­ly incar­nate in today’s Repub­li­can Par­ty, have sought to lim­it who is grant­ed access to the bal­lot box. 

For exam­ple, 6.1 mil­lion Amer­i­cans are denied the vote because of a felony con­vic­tion, a restric­tion that dis­pro­por­tion­al­ly dis­en­fran­chis­es peo­ple of col­or and the poor. Not coin­ci­den­tal­ly, 4.2 mil­lion are res­i­dents of the 11 states that were part of the Con­fed­er­a­cy, all of which cur­rent­ly have GOP-con­trolled leg­is­la­tures. In Flori­da, this restric­tion bars more than 10 per­cent of the vot­ing-age pop­u­la­tion from vot­ing.

Anoth­er tac­tic in the vote-sup­pres­sion tool­box is to require that vot­ers present spe­cif­ic forms of ID. In Texas, an esti­mat­ed 600,000 reg­is­tered vot­ers (and many more unreg­is­tered vot­ers) lack the required iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. Again, it is no acci­dent that such laws dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly affect peo­ple of col­or and the poor.

Not to men­tion peri­od­ic purges of the rolls, which the GOP has turned into an art form. Those purges accel­er­at­ed after 2013, when the Supreme Court, in Shel­by Coun­ty v. Hold­er, over­turned a 1965 Vot­ing Rights Act pro­vi­sion that reg­u­lat­ed elec­tions in 15 states with a his­to­ry of racial dis­crim­i­na­tion (includ­ing nine for­mer mem­bers of the Con­fed­er­a­cy). Between 2012 and 2016, for exam­ple, Geor­gia purged 1.5 mil­lion vot­ers — twice as many as between 2008 and 2012 — under the pre­tense that it was keep­ing the vot­ing rolls accu­rate and up-to-date. Such purges tend to tar­get black peo­ple who vote Demo­c­ra­t­ic, and are there­fore both racist and partisan.

The secu­ri­ty of vot­ing infra­struc­ture is also a con­cern, with vot­er reg­is­tra­tion rolls par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble. Accord­ing to a July 13 indict­ment aris­ing from the Mueller probe, Russ­ian hack­ers tried to pen­e­trate the vot­ing sys­tems of 21 states in 2016. In Illi­nois, they accessed names, address­es, par­tial social secu­ri­ty num­bers, dates of birth, and driver’s license num­bers” of approx­i­mate­ly 500,000 voters.

J. Alex Hal­der­man, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Michi­gan com­put­er sci­en­tist, told the elec­tron­ic indus­try mag­a­zine, EE Times, Rus­sia was in a posi­tion to do more dam­age than they did. They could have changed vot­er reg­is­tra­tion data, but they didn’t.”

On a relat­ed note, in July, the FBI report­ed that the pri­vate com­pa­ny that hosts Maryland’s vot­er reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem is con­trolled by Vladimir Potanin, a Russ­ian oli­garch with close ties to Russ­ian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

All that is the bad news. The good news is that on the Left, elec­toral pol­i­tics is being enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly embraced, par­tic­u­lar­ly by young peo­ple. Accord­ing to Pew Research sur­veys, 2018 will see a record turnout of 18- to 34-year-olds for a midterm elec­tion. What’s more, 57 per­cent of mil­len­ni­als who are reg­is­tered to vote plan to vote for Democ­rats, and only 37 per­cent for Repub­li­cans. Vot­ing habits and polit­i­cal com­mit­ments are estab­lished when peo­ple are young. Giv­en the enthu­si­asm among youth for the com­mon sense social demo­c­ra­t­ic pro­pos­als of Bernie Sanders and ris­ing stars like Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez, we have rea­son to hope that 21st-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca, marked thus far by law­less wars and hideous inequal­i­ty, may break its fever and begin a turn toward some­thing like com­mon decency.

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

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