On August 6, 1965, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by his side, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. The law abolished restrictions on Black Americans voting in federal, state and local elections. Fifty-three years later, the Voting Rights Act is under attack by the Trump administration.
1. The House Appropriations Committee voted to defund the Election Assistance Commission, the only federal agency that helps states make sure their voting machines aren’t hacked. The House Administration Committee previously voted to kill the EAC in February, but yesterday’s (June 29, 2017) vote makes it one step closer to reality—practically inviting Russia to try to hack our elections again.
2. The Department of Justice sent a letter to all 50 states informing them that “we are reviewing voter registration list maintenance procedures in each state covered by the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act]” and asking how they plan to remove voters from the rolls. While this might sound banal, it’s a clear instruction to states from the federal government to start purging the voting rolls.
3. The White House commission on election integrity, led by vice chair Kris Kobach, also sent a letter to 50 states asking them to provide sweeping voter data including “the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.”
4. The Trump administration named Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation as a member of the commission, who’s done more than anyone other than Kobach to spread the myth of voter fraud and enact suppressive policies. Von Spakovsky was special counsel to the Bush administration’s Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Brad Schlozman, who said he wanted to “gerrymander all of those crazy libs right out of the [voting] section.” It was a time when longtime civil-rights lawyers were pushed out of the Justice Department and the likes of Schlozman and von Spakovsky reversed the Civil Rights Division’s traditional role of safeguarding voting rights. When von Spakovsky was nominated to the FEC, six former lawyers in the voting section called him “the point person for undermining the Civil Rights Division’s mandate to protect voting rights.
Over a year later, we have seen all of this happening. Russia is reportedly already preparing to meddle in our midterm election in November, but Trump had a chummy sit down with Vladimir Putin that did nothing to protect our democracy.
We have seen voter purging all over the country. Due to “preclearance jurisdictions,” approximately 2 million voters have been removed from voter rolls. Myrna Perez, the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, wrote in the New York Times, “Our analysis shows that as regions once covered by the preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act increased their purge rates, so too did the number of people who showed up to vote at their polling place but were unable to cast a regular ballot. This suggests that voters were missing from the rolls.”
Lastly, Supreme Court Justice pick Brett Kavanaugh could signal the complete end to voting rights. The New York Times reports, “Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination signals a disturbing shift in the historic role of the court. In the 1950s and 1960s, the civil rights movement looked to the Supreme Court for help in dismantling the architecture of white supremacy. And the court responded by desegregating public schools, upholding the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act and legalizing interracial marriage, to name a few landmark decisions. … That era of strong civil rights enforcement is over. With Judge Kavanaugh on the bench, this will be the most extreme court on civil rights issues since the days of Jim Crow.”
Rough times ahead for our country.