Today’s news included an “off-the-record” admission from inside the Trump campaign that they are trying to suppress the vote. This admission is not news for many Democrats. It is an open secret in this country that low turnout usually favors Republicans, while higher turnout tends to favor Democrats. In 2016, voter suppression takes three forms.
First, voter suppression can be built into the election system itself. For example, unlike many democracies, the U.S. holds elections on a weekday (not just the general election, but also, in most states, primaries and municipal and special elections). In most, if not all states, election days are not a holiday. That makes it harder for folks to vote. Additionally, there are hurdles to registering to vote (fewer today than in the past). In particular, most states cut off registration weeks in advance of the election and you have to register every time that you move to a new county.
One form of voter suppression is that many states have very stringent limits on convicted felons voting. In many countries, even inmates serving a sentence can vote. In almost all countries, upon the end of the sentence, ex-felons are permitted to vote. In many U.S. states, even after release from custody and the end of probation or parole, the ex-felon is not permitted to vote.
The newest form of voter suppression is the photo ID requirement. Many of the states that have adopted a photo ID requirement have fought federal post 9/11 efforts to make it harder to forge photo IDs, but still insist that their photo IDs should be mandatory for people to vote (glossing over the real desire to keep those groups that are less likely to have photo ID and more likely to vote Democrat from voting). These efforts to make it harder to vote ignore that almost all voter “fraud” occurs in the context of absentee voting which does not require a verified photo ID. (In my state, we have the paradox of a voter ID amendment on the ballot at the same time that our legislature is rolling back the protections against absentee voter fraud. Of course, in states with limited absentee voting, most absentee votes favor Republicans.)
Another traditional form of voting suppression comes in establishing precincts and assigning election judges and voting booths to precincts. In many areas, Republican precincts are smaller, and have more judges and voting booths per voter, resulting in shorter lines when people go to vote. On the other hand, Democratic precincts are larger with fewer judges and fewer voting booths per person, resulting in longer lines when people go to vote, thereby discouraging voters who have to get to (or back to) work. Similarly, in some states, local election authorities get to decide the times when early voting centers are open, and, in all states with early voting, election periods, the election authority gets to decide the locations of early voting center. A decision to not put an early voting center at a major university makes it harder for students (who tend to vote Democratic) to vote. Limiting the number of hours on which polls are open on weekends and in the evenings makes it harder for the working poor to vote.
The second form of voter suppression is what the Trump campaign just admitted to doing. Simply put, if you have no chance of winning a majority of votes if everyone votes, then your goal who might support your opponent decide not to vote. While this tactic is distasteful, it is technically legal. That is the primary reason why this campaign has been slimier (with lots of helps from Russia and others who want to reduce American influence in the world) than the typical campaign. Trump knows that women, millennials, and minorities have no good reason to vote for Trump. For each of these three groups, a comparison of the candidates reveals that, for all of her flaws and inadequacies, a President Clinton would be much, much better for them than a President Trump.
Since even Trump can’t tell a big enough lie to cover that a Trump Presidency would be a disaster for minorities and women and young voters, his campaign has decided that his only chance to win is to convince these voters that there are no good choices in this election and that they should just sit out this election. While, as Democrats, we may argue about whether Clinton’s proposals go far enough, and we may dislike some of the stupid things that the Clintons do that make them look bad, we know that President Clinton will, at the very least, be a decent President and could even be a great President if she has enough support in Congress to push her to do more. On the other hand, a President Trump would do damage that might take decades to repair.
The third form of voter suppression is illegal. That form is voter intimidation and providing fraudulent information to voters. Election law allows state and local parties to take certain steps to protect the integrity of the system. Things like official observers (with different states using different names) are legal. In many states, these observers can bring irregularities (including unqualified individuals attempting to vote) to the attention of the election judges so that those irregularities can be corrected. What these observers are not permitted to do is intimidate potential voters in an effort to scare qualified voters away from the polls. In the bad old days, Republicans frequently sent individuals to polling stations in minority precincts with the express intention of intimidating potential Republican voters. For the past thirty-five years, the Republican National Committee has been under a consent decree precluding it from coordinating with the state parties and its candidates in any effort to station observers at precincts. With that decree scheduled to expire, the Trump campaign is actively suggesting to Trump supporters that they should engage in the type of targeted efforts to intimidate voters that is against the law. Trump’s behavior has been so bad that the Democratic National Committee has gone back to the court supervising that decree alleging that the RNC has violated the decree.
Another form of illegal voter suppression that has been common from Republican activists in recent years has been mailers giving voters fraudulent information about the election — suggesting that the election date has been changed, or that they have been disqualified from voting, or that the polling place has moved, or that police will be checking voters for warrants (which is against the law in every state).
Finally, there is a quasi-illegal form of vote suppression — late purges of voting rolls. In every state, there are laws governing when and how election authorities can review the voting rolls to verify that no registered voter has died or moved. There is a proper way to do this. In many Republican areas of the country, however, this purge occurs just before the election (in violation of the law) and involves the selective examination of minority-dominated precincts.
The Trump campaign wants to change this country and the world. Unfortunately, the changes that they want will make it worse. They have concluded, based on substantial evidence, that the majority of Americans aren’t buying what they are selling. The only way that they can win is if we fail to defeat their efforts to suppress the vote. We can change this country for the better, but only if we do all within our power to get people to the polls. If 130 million people vote this election (129 million voted in 2012), we will have a Democratic White House, we will have a Democratic Senate, and we might just have a Democratic House and more Democratic governors and state legislators.