As Attention Focuses on Tightening Presidential Primaries, Voter Suppression Tactics Continue

Photo credit: "Overcome GOP Voter Suppression," by Joe Brusky, Flickr. Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

In yesterday’s Wisconsin primary, American’s got a momentary window into the real effects of voter suppression bills introduced and passed by Republican-dominated legislatures across country. Chris Hayes from MSNBC reported on long lines at Marquette University where the state’s new voter ID laws resulted complicated the voter registration and voting processes.

Wisconsin’s long tradition of making voting accessible to as many people as possible, including leading the way on providing for same-day registration, has been under attack by Scott Walker, the Koch Brother’s-backed governor of the state. Since his election in 2011, Walker has been steadily curbing citizen’s access to the ballot by cutting early voting hours, dramatically curbing community organizations’ ability to conduct voter registration drives, and, most recently, the new Voter ID law that puts up new barriers to voting. The long lines in Wisconsin were due, in part, to the new requirements which unlike years past, instituted a more cumbersome and lengthy same-day registration process. As one college student told MSNBC,

It’s becoming unnecessarily complicated…Students have been leaving the line all day because its getting too long with the new registration requirements and they need to leave for classes or for work. So, a lot of people aren’t voting because they have to leave.

Writing in The Nation, Ari Berman reported that as many as 300,000 Wisconsinites may be disenfranchised due to the new voter registration requirements. That represents “9 percent of the electorate, who do not have a government-issued photo ID.” But Wisconsin is not alone. According to Berman,

Wisconsin, one of the country’s most important battleground states, is one of 16 states with new voting restrictions in place since 2012. The five-hour lines in Arizona were the most recent example of America’s election problems. Wisconsin could be next.

And it was. Once again, long lines were part of the story of yet another primary. Given the conviction of right-wing politicians backed by the Koch Brothers and other billionaire king-makers coupled with the Supreme Court’s roll back of the Voting Rights Act, this fall’s presidential election might prove to see voter suppression on a scale we haven’t seen since before the Civil Rights Movement.

If there was any question as to the motivation behind Wisconsin’s new voting restrictions, leave it to a first-term Congressman to spill the beans. I reported on Republican State Representatve. Glenn Grothman’s beginner’s mistake for TPM,

A Republican congressman on Tuesday night acknowledged that the new law requiring a photo ID to vote in Wisconsin could help Republican candidates at the polls in the general election.

“I think Hillary Clinton is about the weakest candidate the Democrats have ever put up. And now we have photo ID, and I think photo ID is going to make a little bit of a difference as well,” Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI), a supporter of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), told Milwaukee television station TMJ4 when asked how either Cruz or Donald Trump could win in November.

Freshman mistake, Glenn.

Legal Battles Underway Nationwide

In 2012, Pennsylvania was front-and-center in the fight to preserve voters access to the polls when then House Republican Majority Leader Rep. Mike Turzai, forced through a voter suppression bill designed to tip the scales toward Mitt Romey in the last presidential election. If there was any doubt of Turzai’s intentions, he was kind enough to admit it publicly. On camera (thank, again, for that Mike. You were PA’s very own Glenn Gothman before it was cool):

Despite set-backs for those intent on suppressing the vote, they seem undeterred in the run-up the 2016 presidential election.

As reported by Kira Lerner over at ThinkProgress today, a new lawsuit was filed alleging that the state of Ohio has been illegally purging people from the voter registration rolls:

Ohioans who do not vote in three consecutive federal elections automatically have their registrations cancelled. In 2015, that meant that roughly 40,000 people living in Ohio’s largest county — largely low-income and minority voters — were disenfranchised. Over the last five years, roughly two million people have been removed from the rolls.

Demos and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Ohio filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Ohio Secretary of State John Husted, alleging that the massive purge of Ohio’s voter rolls is illegal and violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), know as the “motor voter law.” Under that law, states can only remove voters from the rolls if they request the removal, die, or move out of state, and the list maintenance program must be nondiscriminatory.

Isolated instance? Not on your life.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Texas Civil Rights Project filed suit against the State of Texas alleging that thousands of Texans are being denied the right to vote due to some funny-business with the state’s election rolls.

Plaintiffs in the suit say they tried to update their drivers license and voter registration records through the website of the state Department of Public Safety, and believed they had done so. But when they went to vote, they were found to be unregistered, and forced to cast provisional ballots, which likely won’t count.

On the same day the Texas lawsuit was filed, the National Council of La Raza and NAACP branches in Reno and Las Vegas finally settled a 2012 suit claiming that “the state was failing to register voters at public assistance agencies as required under federal law.”

The Civil Rights division of the Department of Justice is now investigating Arizona voter complaints after that state’s Democratic primary saw never-before-seen long lines and chaos at the polls after Maricopa County – the state’s most populous county which includes the city of Phoenix – reduced the number of polling places from 200 in 2012 to just 60 this year.

The list goes on. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, voters in 17 states (so far) face new efforts to suppress the vote.

In 2016, 17 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions.

Those 17 states are: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

This is part of a broader movement to curtail voting rights, which began after the 2010 election, when state lawmakers nationwide started introducing hundreds of harsh measures making it harder to vote.

We’ve heard rumblings that Pennsylvanian may face another round of voter suppression in time for the November elections. If we’ve learned anythings since Turzai’s blatant attempt to illegally influence the last presidential election, all of us need to be watching the upcoming Pennsylvania primary closely. Pennsylvania’s primary will take place on Tuesday, April 26th.

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