The Last Gasp of Voter Suppression
Everything seemed to be going so very well for democracy lately that we almost forgot there were still powerful, anti-democratic forces in high places eager to put a stop to protecting voting rights.
In just a few weeks, federal courts in six states struck down Republican-backed voting restrictions intentionally making it harder for minority groups and other voters who support Democrats to exercise their right to vote.
They included two Wisconsin federal courts and federal judges in Texas, North Carolina, Michigan, North Dakota and Kansas.
But just as a clear legal pattern emerged nationally eliminating dishonest Republican tactics of voter suppression, three Republican-appointed judges on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago abruptly reminded us every American’s right to vote wasn’t fully guaranteed yet.
For the second time in two years, a three-judge panel of Republican-appointed justices—with former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Diane Sykes on both—struck down a decision by U.S. District Judge Lynn Adelman that eliminated some voting restrictions in Wisconsin.
Sykes’ role in reinstating Republican voting restrictions is significant because Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has named Sykes as one of the judges he would consider appointing to the U.S. Supreme Court.
(Full disclosure: I worked with both Diane and her former husband, Charlie Sykes, a right-wing radio talk show host, at The Milwaukee Journal and consider them to be personal friends. Yes, I have friends with varied political beliefs, but I’m sure she understands why I would dread to see her on the Supreme Court.)
In 2014, a Sykes panel reinstated Wisconsin’s strict photo ID law for voting that Adelman ruled violated both the Voting Rights Act and the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that appeals court decision before the midterm election, reinstating Adelman’s injunction against the law.
The most recent appeals court decision by Sykes and two other Republican appointees overruled another Adelman decision permitting voters who had difficulty obtaining a state voter ID to vote after signing a sworn affidavit. That decision also is likely to be appealed.
Republican legislators in Wisconsin and elsewhere claim their voting restrictions prevent vote fraud, but that claim itself is fraudulent. The restrictions are aimed at specific racial groups “with almost surgical precision,” in the words of one court decision.
The other Wisconsin voting rights decision by U.S. District Judge James Peterson blocked Republican restrictions on the use of college student IDs and reductions in early voting, including the elimination of weekend and evening voting hours.
Those restrictions had nothing to do with voter fraud. They simply created obstacles to voting and longer lines on Election Day in densely populated Democratic urban areas.
No Evidence of Voter Fraud
Republicans never produce evidence of much voter fraud in America because there isn’t any.
Ari Berman, the author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, cites a 2014 Loyola University Law School study that found only 31 credibly documented incidents of voter impersonation out of more than 1 billion votes cast in the U.S. since 2000. About 30 people die every year as a result of being struck by lightning.
But in Sykes’ big fan Donald Trump, Republican legislators have a presidential nominee who’s an even bigger liar about voter fraud than they are.
After all those court decisions eliminating Republican voting restrictions, Trump said: “We may have people vote 10 times. . . . Why not? If you don’t have voter ID, you can just keep voting and voting and voting.”
Hardly. As Berman wrote recently in The Washington Post, if Trump wanted to vote 10 times in New York, which requires registered voters to sign their names at the polls, he’d have to vote in 10 different places, know the names and addresses of nine other registered voters in nine other precincts, forge their exact signatures and know that they hadn’t voted yet.
And here’s the biggie, each fraudulent vote would carry a penalty of five years in jail, a $10,000 fine and additional state penalties.
Very few political supporters are dim-witted enough to risk years of incarceration for a few meaningless fraudulent votes that would make little difference in a national election.
That hasn’t stopped Trump from using voter fraud as a convenient excuse to explain away what both Republican and Democratic political professionals expect could be a historically massive defeat for the vicious, offensive Trump in November.
While campaigning in Pennsylvania, Trump said, the only way he could lose Pennsylvania is “if cheating goes on.” Most other people believe Trump trailing Hillary Clinton by double digits in nearly every battleground state should be enough to do it.
After November, a fully stocked U.S. Supreme Court is expected to continue the pattern of upholding the constitutional right to vote.
America will then dodge all the potential horrors of a Trump presidency including roving NRA death squads, the Trump-Putin Anti-World Alliance and Justice Sykes on the Supreme Court.