Democrats have regained power in the U.S. House of Representatives as a result of the midterm elections, and there is a lot of talk about them now using that regained power to begin public investigations into Trump and his administration.
Naturally, as Vox has noted, the stalled House Intelligence Committee investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign can now resume under Chairman-elect Rep. Adam Schiff. Trump associates’ numerous contacts and communications with Russian intelligence agents and their efforts to tilt that election against the Democratic nominee remain a priority, despite the fact that Trump calls it a “hoax” and he’s fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions for having recused himself from that investigation only to replace him with his own chief of staff who has previously called the probe a “lynch mob.”
Trump has well-known issues with the Emoluments Clause. In addition, indications that his family may have been involved in decades of tax fraud involving as much as $400 million, and his own company repeatedly defrauded the public may be pursued by incoming House Ways and Means Chairman-elect Rep. Richard Neal, who has already said that he will do this.
And there’s the House Judiciary Committee, where Chairman-elect Rep. Jerry Nadler can investigate Trump administration attempts to obstruct justice, and also ultimately review the final report from the special counsel to consider either censure or impeachment.
But there’s one other area which may actually be more important than all the above, which happens to be all of the voting irregularities, voter suppression efforts, and widespread gerrymandering which were implemented in multiple states by the GOP in their effort to retain and extend their political power. These hearings should be used to do something that hasn’t been even considered for the last five years since the Supreme Court ruling on Shelby v. Holder: fully restore the Voting Rights Act.
The Brennan Center summarizes Shelby v. Holder as follows:
In April 2010, Shelby County, Alabama filed suit asking a federal court in Washington, DC to declare Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional. Section 5 is a key part of the Voting Rights Act, requiring certain jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to submit any proposed changes in voting procedures to the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal district court in D.C. – before it goes into effect – to ensure the change would not harm minority voters. In September 2011, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia upheld the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, and in May 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed with the district court that Section 5 was constitutional. Shelby County appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court agreed to take the case in November 2012.
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that the coverage formula in Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act — which determines which jurisdictions are covered by Section 5 — is unconstitutional because it is based on an old formula. As a practical matter this means that Section 5 is inoperable until Congress enacts a new coverage formula, which the decision invited Congress to do.
In the ensuing five years, the Republican-controlled House and Senate never held a single hearing to ever consider restoring Section 4. But there’s quite a bit more that needs correction beyond just the pre-clearance feature of that section.
This week, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes spent time specifically talking about election issues.
As noted by the guests on Hayes’ show, during Jeff Sessions’ shortened tenure as attorney general, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division didn’t file a single voting rights case—not one.
Since Donald Trump took office, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division has not filed a single lawsuit enforcing a crucial law intended to prevent racial voter discrimination.
By contrast, according to a Justice Department website disclosing the Civil Rights Division’s case filings, the Obama administration filed 5 lawsuits under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act — the primary provision permitting lawsuits alleging voter discrimination on the basis of race. The second Bush administration filed 15, and the Clinton administration filed 16.
Indeed, according to the Justice Department, DOJ only filed four suits of any kind enforcing a voting rights statute. None of those four suits filed by the Trump administration were brought on behalf of voters of color denied the right to vote. In fact, one of these suits was actually a voter purge suit that resulted in an outcome that actually made it harder for people to vote — as a result of this suit, Kentucky agreed to “develop a general program of statewide voter list maintenance that makes a reasonable effort to remove registrants who have become ineligible due to a change in residence.”
In her first press conference following the results of the midterm, soon-to-be returning Speaker Nancy Pelosi specifically pointed out how amazing the Democratic victories were, despite the fact they had to “jump over gerrymandered lines all over the country.”
— TPM Livewire (@TPMLiveWire) November 7, 2018
This hurdle is large enough that even the Washington Post has noted it:
After the 2010 Census, Republicans controlled enough state legislatures to draw new electoral lines in four times as many districts as Democrats did. And Democrats have been locked out of power in some swing states ever since. A new report finds they might not make it back to power without lines that favor them, and Democrats don’t have a reasonable chance to control the line-drawing process until after the 2020 Census.
A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice calculates that Democrats are going to have to win the popular vote by a historically large margin — an estimated 11 percent — to overcome Republican-drawn districts that were designed to keep them out. Winning by such a large margin is something no party has done in decades.
From the report, which published last week:
To attain a bare majority, Democrats would probably have to win the national popular vote by nearly 11 points. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have won by such an overwhelming margin in decades. Even a strong blue wave would crash against a wall of gerrymandered maps.
In order to just break even, Democrats have to start out 11 points ahead. Even though the individual states may control the drawing of the district lines, it really shouldn’t matter which party is in control of the governor’s mansion and legislatures in those states. House committees should bring forth testimony in an open hearing about the current state of national redistricting and use that to write legislation that requires the drawing fair and reasonable districts, preferably using an external independent commission, or else face a challenge under the Voting Rights Act.
But first, you have to actually get to the polls without being harassed and intimidated, as voter intimidation this year was the worst it’s been in decades.
“I’ve been here for 30 years, and this harassment that’s going on, I haven’t ever seen the likes of this,” said Toni Pippins-Poole, the county’s election director. “I’ve seen some other things, props being used and whatnot, but nothing like this type of mentality or aggressiveness or demeaning type of actions.”
At the Lakeside Activity Center in Mesquite, Texas, election administrators received complaints of a partisan poll watcher looking over voter’s shoulders as they cast their ballots and questioning voters on their politics. The person was later escorted out by Mesquite Police Department officers on Monday after refusing to leave the premises, according to Pippins-Poole.
Texas law requires that any form of electioneering — including passing out political literature or advocating for or against candidates or issues — can only occur more than 100 feet outside a polling location. Within that distance, poll workers can kick people out for causing a disturbance. When the nuisance is farther away, Pippins-Poole instructs her poll workers to call law enforcement.
There was an incident in Virginia where a Trump supporter decided to park his truck near a polling place with his large, barking German Shepard on top of it.
“What the heck is happening in Virginia Beach??” Norfolk, Virginia City Councilwoman Andria McClellan asked in a Facebook post, with the photo attached (below). “There’s a German Shepherd standing on top of a pick up angrily barking at voters as they approach the ARE voting precinct (sporting a Taylor button and Trump banner). This speaks volumes. If this isn’t voter intimidation, I don’t know what is,” she adds.
What the heck is happening in Virginia Beach?? There’s a German Shepherd standing on top of a pick up angrily barking…
The Virginia Beach Republican Party doesn’t have a problem with what several are calling voter intimidation
Also in this past election, various efforts to suppress the vote, particularly of minorities and Democrats, were widespread and vicious. In Georgia, the suppression efforts implemented by Brian Kemp in his gubernatorial race against Democrat Stacey Abrams were easily larger than the margin of difference between them in the first count of the election.
On Tuesday, ThinkProgress watched voters in Gwinnett County endure four-and-a-half hour lines at polling places due to broken voting machines.
The majority-minority county strongly favored Democratic candidates on Tuesday, but not even a court-ordered extension of voting hours could make up for the reality that many of the citizens who tried to cast their votes during the morning did not have time to wait or return. Similar issues were reported in Fulton County as well.
Elsewhere, large numbers of black voters at Georgia State University told ThinkProgress they were forced to cast provisional ballots — which may or may not be counted — with little or no explanation as to why they were not allowed to vote normally or how to have their votes counted.
The situation with the excessive use of voter ID was so oppressive that even Kemp himself couldn’t use his ID to vote.
Ironically, even Kemp himself had trouble casting his ballot.
Even more concerning than day-of chaos and confusion were the systematic attempts by Kemp to reject eligible voters through suppression tactics. While presiding over the election he ran in, he was caught admitting to his supporters that if all Georgians voted, he would lose. To ensure that would not happen, he oversaw the purging of more than one million “inactive” voters from the voting rolls and attempted to implement an illegal scheme to reject tens of thousands of absentee ballot requests that he said did not have an “exact” signature match.
Without pre-clearance, these suppression efforts were allowed to go forward, even though Democrats sued to take control of his own election away from Kemp.
As a lawsuit filed Tuesday lays out, Kemp spuriously accused Democrats of trying to hack the state’s voter registration system. He aggressively purged registered voters. And he “held up 53,000 voter registrations — a whopping 70 percent of them from black applicants.” Some of these actions were blocked by federal courts.
The lawsuit, entitled Brown v. Kemp, seeks “a narrow temporary restraining order (TRO) transferring [Kemp’s] duties to another official to be selected by the governor.” It roots this argument in the longstanding principle that “no man can be a judge in his own case.”
At one point in time, Trump himself was actually concerned about “vote flipping” when he thought it was happening in Texas to help his 2016 opponent Democrat Hillary Clinton.
A lot of call-ins about vote flipping at the voting booths in Texas. People are not happy. BIG lines. What is going on?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2016
But in that case, it wasn’t true.
The Republican nominee and real estate mogul was likely referring to debunked reports that voting machines in Texas are changing votes for president on straight-ticket ballots from Trump to Hillary Clinton.
Those reports — which originated in Tarrant County, according to Snopes — have since been debunked. Election officials have said repeatedly that any “vote flipping” is caused not by broken machines, but user error.“Reports are not flooding in from across Texas about vote switching, and most anecdotes are identical with localities changed,” Snopes, a website that fact checks Internet and urban rumors, wrote in a post on Wednesday.
But this year, there were a great many voting machine problems, as some machines in Georgia couldn’t be used because of missing power cords, forcing hundreds of black Georgia voters to wait. And Georgia was far from alone, as voting machines in South Carolina were truly caught flipping votes.
According to WLTX, upwards of 30 technicians are working to fix the machines, after voters noticed that their votes were swapped out for the opposing party.Other malfunctions, with cords and non-functioning outlets, also made voting difficult.
Voters were turned away in Detroit because voting machines were “locked in a closet.” New York and New Jersey voters were told to “come back in an hour” due to broken scanners and late-opening precincts. Frustrated voters walked out in Brooklyn after all but one voting machine broke down. The New York City Board of Elections director blamed ”wet ballots” and “high turnout” for voting issues—and not the city’s voter purge.
All told, there were ridiculous issues with voting machines in more than a dozen states.
Broken voting machines were reported in at least 12 states by noon (1700 GMT) on Tuesday, according to an “election protection” coalition of more than 100 groups that set up a national hotline for reporting irregularities.[…]“We’re fully prepared to mount emergency litigation to push back against some of the systemic problems that sometimes rear their heads in our elections,” said Kristen Clarke, head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which leads the election protection coalition.
Civil rights groups have already been locked in litigation with several states over voting restrictions that were passed in the lead-up to Tuesday’s election.North Dakota introduced a voter ID requirement that Native Americans say discriminates against them; Kansas and Georgia moved polling locations, and changes in Tennessee registration laws led to people being removed from the voting lists.
Advocacy groups said the changes stack the deck against minority voters who are likely to support Democratic candidates.
And then there were some out-and-out stunts pulled to block and frighten some voters away from the polls. In Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rouke’s home district, Border Patrol agents planned to conduct a ”crowd control exercise” near a heavily Latino neighborhood’s polling station in El Paso, Texas.
The U.S. Border Patrol is preparing for the migrant caravan – still weeks and hundreds of miles away – by conducting a “crowd control exercise” on Election Day in a Hispanic neighborhood a half-mile away from their polling station.
That Hispanic neighborhood is in El Paso, which coincidentally happens to be the hometown of Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the popular Democratic candidate challenging U.S. Senator Ted Cruz.
In Kansas, Secretary of State Kris Kobach approved moving the single polling place for the majority Latino town of Dodge City literally outside the city limits, to a location that was not accessible by sidewalk, not accessible to disabled citizens, and was located more than a mile away from the nearest bus stop.
There is only one polling place in the entire town, just one. And when the ACLU wrote the county clerk [Debbie Cox] asking her to open other polling places which would actually be inside the town and asked for her help publicizing a helpline for voters to help cut down on confusion she forwarded the email to Kobach and added one comment of her own: “LOL”.
In Kobach’s case, this blatant suppression attempt wasn’t enough for him to prevail in his race to become governor.
Then you have other cases, such as GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York, who sent out wrong information to voters (as outlined below by Rachel Maddow). Maddow detailed how other GOP secretaries of state have been sending out wrong dates for absentee ballots (specifically on the Spanish language version in 2016). Rep. Zeldin did it again in 2018 by having the correct date for Republicans but the wrong date on the mailer for Democrats. That’s not to mention other outright misdirection, as well as direct threats against voters intended to scare them away from the polls.
Only 13 states require a federal certification for voting systems, but those only cover the machines themselves, not necessarily the software. Despite so-called “federal certification requirements,” “there has never been a full independent code audit and penetration test covering the entire scope of voting systems.”Veracode Vice President of Research Chris Eng wondered why he couldn’t get a white paper about the handling of sensitive data for electronic voting machines from reputable security firms.“Software security audits, including penetration testing, are done for ‘thousands of small software companies every year, on software for banks, media, and manufacturing,’” he said. “Their customers demand that they get a third-party audit of their software. Financial and manufacturing firms are vetting their software. That kind of thinking hasn’t made it to state and county government.”The Department of Homeland Security helps states with some voting security issues, but realistically, most counties don’t have the time or money to handle major security.Eng wants to see counties do a “mock election day” where they can test penetration and see if vote tallies can be manipulated. It could help find issues before the big day, and for states that don’t allow early voting, it might help cut time opening up polling places in the morning.
States have become “reluctant—and in some cases even hostile” to anyone trying to help secure their election systems. In Georgia, a judge even called the security “inadequate” after vulnerabilities were discovered for ballot systems.
This issue clearly came up after the 2000 election and the subsequent Help America Vote Act [HAVA], but it’s obvious the issue was not fully addressed. Funds and standards should be put in place to allow for secure and accurate voting, and there should always be an audit trail available so that vote tallies can be confirmed. There should always be normal—not provisional—paper ballots available in the case there is a machine hardware or software malfunction.
While we’ve had all these problems and Trump’s administration has literally done less than nothing to address them, four outstanding races where Democrats continue to gain ground as absentee and provisional ballots come in, Arizona Senate between Marthy McSally and Krysten Sinema, Georgia Governor between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams, Florida Governor between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson and Florida Senate Mark Desantis and Andrew Gillum have driven them around the bend with unjustified and unproven allegations of “Fraud.”
Democrat Kyrsten Sinema has taken a lead of over 20,000 votes after being behind, while Abrams Nelson and Gillum have all narrowed their races close enough to require an automatic recount while Republicans from Trump to Rick Scott and Rep. Matt Geatz literally scream bloody “fraud” without a shred of evidence.
Kemp has called Stacey Abrams a “disgrace to democracy” for refusing to concede and insisting that all the votes be counted.
According to Fox 5, Kemp’s campaign issued a statement late Saturday claiming it is “mathematically impossible” for Abrams to force the runoff.
It then called her refusal to concede “a disgrace to democracy.”“This is not how America works,” Kemp’s Communications Director Ryan Mahoney insisted. “Brian Kemp earned a clear victory on Tuesday night and holds a sizable lead as remaining provisional and military ballots are counted.”
According to the report, just 64,000 votes separate the candidates, putting Kemp at 50.3 percent of the vote.
If Kemp’s lead is cut roughly in half — by roughly 32,000 votes — he would drop below 50.1 percent and a run would be triggered. in Florida both the Senate and Governor races have been ordered to be recounted by machine as lawsuits fly back and forth.
In Florida’s election for the U.S. Senate, Republican Governor Rick Scott had seen his lead narrow over incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson to about 12,500 votes, or 0.15 percent, by Saturday afternoon.In the gubernatorial contest, unofficial results showed Republican Ron DeSantis’ lead over Democrat Andrew Gillum had slimmed to about 33,700 votes, or 0.41 percent.
President Donald Trump has accused Democratic election officials in Florida’s Broward and Palm Beach Counties of corruption, without providing any evidence.“Trying to STEAL two big elections in Florida! We are watching closely!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday during a visit to France.
Scott has filed lawsuits against Democratic election supervisors in the two counties, accusing them of violating election law and demanding access to their vote tallies.
Nelson also filed a motion in federal court asking that provisional and absentee ballots not be rejected because election officials deem that the signatures do not match voters’ signatures on file.
All this has led to manic public displays such as this by Rep. Matt Gaetz who was screaming at police who were telling him to move because he was creating a safety hazard.
Maddow then showed a video of him arguing and demanding to go in an inspect the building as police polity ask him to move because he is creating a safety hazard.“That’s not a safety hazard,” a noncompliant and aggressive Gaetz yells at a police officer whole gesturing wildly. “The safety hazard is there in the [unintelligible] ballots!”
“FDLE is working with the Department of State and we will investigate any allegations of criminal activity or fraud,” FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger told TPM. “This morning we spoke with the Department of State and they indicated that at this time they had no allegations of fraud.”
Our election systems should be as secure as our bank transactions. Unfortunately, it won’t be easy getting things to that point, but there is no good reason not to start fixing this right now.
This is a problem that can’t be solved in a few months,” Eng told ARS Technica. “It’s really going to take years of change, of how you think about vetting the software, and how the manufacturers that are making the software think about security.”
Deliberate and systematic lies should not be published among the information provided to voters. We shouldn’t have bogus last-minute polling location changes and bogus and unnecessary modifications to ID requirements which are directly intended to increase the difficulty and expense for specific voter groups. We shouldn’t have government-backed intimidation efforts intended to scare voters away from the polls.
None of this is acceptable. We don’t have an honest, functioning democracy if we don’t have an honest, open, fair, and functional election system. The states, particularly when GOP-controlled, are not going to lift a finger to solve this problem. They don’t think that this is a problem, because suppressing the vote benefits them.
The system shouldn’t be rigged to benefit anyone, Democrat or Republican. It should simply work.
This should become a major campaign for both parties, and if Republicans won’t sign on to finally correcting and fixing the voting problems throughout the nation, they should be shamed and ridiculed as un-American until they do. Even without an active Section 4, penalties for deliberate voter suppression should be made criminal felonies. People like Kobach, Kemp, and Zeldin shouldn’t be repeat offenders at suppression. Just like the people they claim are committing “widespread voter fraud” (even if they can’t seem to find any widespread cases), they. should. be. in jail.
None of this gets fixed unless Congress takes it as seriously as any other threat to our nation, as seriously as the threat of ISIS or al-Qaida, as seriously as North Korea or Russia. If we can’t vote and have our votes fully and accurately counted, then we don’t have a country: We have a banana republic.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.