Recent events and court decisions have revealed a disturbing pattern among alt-right forces aligned with Trump (though direct ties to the Trump campaign are absent in some instances). They show a conscious attempt to suppress the minority vote in a 2016 version of the Jim Crow tactics that conservative used to block the black vote for much of the 20th century.
Some of these attempts reflect the bungling bigotry of individual alt-right Republicans and have no apparent connection to an organized voter suppression effort from the Trump campaign. One such example is that of Arkansas Republican election commissioner Stu Soffer, shown below with Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump.
Soffer was already a controversial figure in Jefferson County, Arkansas, where a long list of complaints has accumulated against him. Nevertheless, the Republican Party has continued to re-appoint Soffer.
In the latest incident, Soffer’s efforts to get voters to appear before a camera crew outside a polling place caused a disturbance that resulted in the county sheriff ordering a man with Soffer to leave. Soffer, however, claimed poll watcher credentials, blocked the door leading to the voting booths, and shouted at voters to “shut up and go home.” As a result of Soffer’s antics, some voters left without a voting. A lawsuit has since been filed by one of those voters and Soffer resigned his position as a poll watcher.
As troubling as this is, even more so is the organized effort by alt-right, white nationalist groups. Partnering with Neo-Nazi leader Andrew Anglin, the alt-right website, “the Right Stuff,” has announced a plan to induce residents in highly-Democratic Philadelphia to stay away from the polls by handing out liquor and marijuana. Seriously – they’ve announced this. It’s an unbelievable combination of National Socialists (a.k.a. Neo-Nazis), the KKK, and the white nationalist American Freedom Party deploying in force in support of Donald Trump. It’s also a scope of effort that was absent in this degree on the part of these groups for GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
Tragically, it’s not just individual bigots like Stu Soffer or formerly fringe alt-right groups that are engaged in organized attempts at voter suppression. Two just-decided court cases have ripped the mask off two concerted efforts tied to either the Trump campaign or a state GOP.
In Ohio on Friday, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against the Trump Campaign, as well as against controversial Trump adviser and confidant, Roger Stone, and Stone’s political group, “Stop the Steal.” Stone and his group were planning to have Trump supporters volunteer as exit poll workers and “citizen journalists” in urban areas in Ohio to ask voters questions as they approached the polls. The court saw through this charade as a sham effort designed to harass and intimidate voters, and barred the parties from doing so. Additionally, to be evenhanded the judge made sure to include the “Clinton for Presidency Campaign” in the order. Further exposing the sham, the Trump campaign is appealing the ruling.
Then we go to North Carolina, where conservatives have vigorously sought to revive Jim Crow since the U.S. Supreme Court reduced the reach of the Voting Rights Act. First, Republicans in the state passed a law with, among other things, new ID requirements, the elimination of same-day registration, and a reduction in early voting. In July, a federal appeals court struck down North Carolina’s 2013 voting law, noting that it targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”
So, the GOP in North Carolina, who controls county election boards, then moved to suppress the vote in ways they felt would pass legal muster. At the heart of this effort was an email from the state GOP directing counties to cut polling hours and locations. The effort has paid off so far. Seventeen (17) counties in North Carolina reduced the number of early voting locations. One predominately African-American county cut early voting locations from 16 to 1.
Adding to the outrageousness of voter suppression efforts in North Carolina is a citizen group there that is challenging voters by conducting mass mailings to the homes of people it identifies as inactive voters. If the mail is returned to sender, then the citizens group goes to the county board of elections, challenges the voter’s registration, and has them removed from the rolls.
North Carolina’s rules are not dissimilar to Virginia in that your address is not a condition of voting provided you have not moved out of the county. You may have to vote at a new precinct (and not always, depending on when you moved). Consequently, these mass mailings could be returned for a reason, including moving, that has nothing to do with your eligibility to vote. Indeed, after people were unjustifiably removed from the rolls, some, including a 100 year old African-American woman who has regularly voted, filed suit.
It’s painful to watch the commentary of the 100 year old African-American woman and contrast it with that of a man who is a very active participant in attempting to purge the voter rolls. The man claimed to be doing this because he had once taken an oath to support the Constitution of the United States. Yet he seemed completely oblivious to the fact that he was, in fact, working in direct opposition to the fundamental principles and guaranteed rights of that Constitution. Here a 100 year old African-American woman who has lived through Jim Crow and seen the blood necessary to secure a right that she should have had as a matter of course, has to watch that right being challenged at the end of her life by someone either consciously or inadvertently working against their oath and the Constitution they have sworn to uphold.
Individuals like the man referenced above claimed there was no intent to discriminate against African-Americans since he was mailing to people identified as inactive voters. Of course, it wasn’t lost on the North Carolina NAACP that these groups had to pick what areas they focused their mailings on. And what did they find? Evidence that high minority communities were a focus.
Once again the courts were forced to step in. Recognizing the injustice of stripping someone of the right to vote on the basis of one piece of returned mail, a federal judge has barred three North Carolina counties from revoking the voting rights of thousands of residents, and ordered that those rights be restored to those already stricken.
A minister in North Carolina put the recent years of voter suppression efforts in North Carolina in historical context. After reconstruction, conservatives enacted Jim Crow. After the Civil Rights era of the 1960s, conservatives implemented the southern strategy. Now, after the election of the country’s first black president, conservatives are implementing legislation and intimidation tactics designed to suppress minority participation. Rather than try to win minority votes on the issues, conservative groups have continually reacted to the country’s changing demographics by trying to reduce voter participation.
Unfortunately, the influence of the white nationalists of the alt-right on Trump himself with regard to this issue was demonstrated yet again this weekend. In Nevada Trump announced that “It’s being reported that certain key Democratic polling locations in Clark County were kept open for hours and hours beyond closing time to bus and bring democratic voters in. Folks, it’s a rigged system.” The state chairman of the Nevada Republican Party referred to this as “a certain group” of people, saying “Last night, in Clark County, they kept a poll open ’til 10 o’clock at night so a certain group could vote. The polls are supposed to close at 7. This was kept open until 10. Yeah, you feel free right now? You think this is a free and easy election? That’s why it’s important.”
It turned out, of course, that Trump wasn’t telling the truth, forcing a bizarre on-air scramble by his Campaign Manager, Kellyanne Conway. Subsequent investigation revealed that polls had indeed been kept open after closing time – for only those already in line at the time of closing, as appropriately required by law. The certain group of concern to Republicans: Hispanics.
It is simply unbelievable and unconscionable that this kind of voter suppression continues in the United States in 2016. When it is random individuals or fringe groups it is an inevitable part of a society with a large population that is bound to contain some bigots and crazies. But when those individuals or fringe groups sufficiently infiltrate a mainstream organization, take advantage of the ill-informed, or find groups that will help normalize their conduct by more sophisticated attempts to accomplish their voter suppression goals, then we are seeing a real threat to the fundamental principles of American democracy.
As you know, at the Muckraker we try to bring most of our posts back to Prince William County where relevant. Tactics like those described above should be relevant to us as Americans, regardless of where they occur. Unfortunately, they are not as far afield as one might hope. The tactics of voter suppression have existed and continue to exist here in Prince William County.
In a recent election, after a storm forced the closing of early in-person absentee voting locations in the more Democratic eastern side of the county, the then-Republican majority on our own county election board fought efforts to add additional hours. More recently, a county electoral board member attempted to discredit the election victory of a Democratic State Senator (who had defeated the electoral board member’s friend who was later arrested and convicted in an election-related offense) with a bizarre untrained-citizen review of absentee ballots in violation of policy. More troubling is that delegates from Prince William County have repeatedly submitted and supported various legislation that is clearly designed to suppress turnout among minority and young voters.
These efforts bear watching. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.