What Can We Do About the Great 2024 Voter Purge Being Done by Republicans?

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Opinions & Commentary

Photo by Dan Dennis

What Can We Do About the Great 2024 Voter Purge Being Done by Republicans?

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Opinions & Commentary

Photo by Dan Dennis

Using arcane laws and loopholes, GOP affiliated groups are challenging the right to vote of thousands of democratic voters across the states most likely to determine the outcome of the 2024 election.

Republished with permission from Thom Hartmann

Other than last Sunday’s revelation that Saudi Arabia and Russia have begun manipulating oil availability to create high gas prices to kneecap Biden this fall, the most under-reported story of the week was also posted to The New York Times the same day.

Alexandra Berzon and Nick Corasaniti wrote for last Sunday’s Times:

“A network of right-wing activists and allies of Donald J. Trump is quietly challenging thousands of voter registrations in critical presidential battleground states, an all-but-unnoticed effort that could have an impact in a close or contentious election.”

Noting that there’s virtually no evidence of voter fraud in any of the states targeted by this new group, which is run by “former Trump lawyer, Cleta Mitchell, and True the Vote, a vote-monitoring group with a long history of spreading misinformation,” the Times article notes that their targets are quite specific.

In Michigan, for example, they have:

“[T]urned up large numbers of supposedly questionable voters in dense areas of Detroit and in student housing in Ann Arbor, both overwhelmingly Democratic cities.”

Using arcane laws and loopholes, Republican-affiliated groups are challenging the right to vote of thousands of mostly democratic voters across the states most likely to determine the outcome of the 2024 election.

While the Times report makes it seem like this is a new tactic, it’s been a major part of Republican electoral strategy since the 1960s. They’re just getting more sophisticated these days.

William Rehnquist, for example, was a 40-year-old Arizona lawyer and Republican activist in 1964, when his idol, Barry Goldwater, was running against Lyndon Johnson for president. Rehnquist helped organize a program titled Operation Eagle Eye in his state to aggressively challenge the vote of every Hispanic and Black voter and to dramatically slow down the voting lines in communities of color to discourage people who had to get back to work from waiting hours to vote.

As Democratic poll watcher Lito Pena observed at the time, Rehnquist showed up at a southern Phoenix polling place to do his part in Operation Eagle Eye:

“He knew the law and applied it with the precision of a swordsman,” Pena told a reporter. “He sat at the table at the Bethune School, a polling place brimming with black citizens, and quizzed voters ad nauseam about where they were from, how long they’d lived there—every question in the book. A passage of the Constitution was read and people who spoke broken English were ordered to interpret it to prove they had the language skills to vote.”

Rehnquist was richly rewarded for his activism; he quickly rose through the GOP ranks to being appointed by President Nixon, in 1972, to the Supreme Court and then elevated in 1986 by President Reagan to chief justice, a position he used to help stop the vote recount in 2000 and hand the election that year to George W. Bush in the case of Bush v. Gore.

(Interestingly, three GOP-employed attorneys who worked with the Bush legal team to argue that case before Rehnquist included then-little-known lawyers John Roberts, Amy Coney Barrett, and Brett Kavanaugh. Bush rewarded Roberts by appointing him not just to the Court but directly to the chief justice position when Rehnquist died. Roberts was also a tie-breaking vote to allow Ohio to continue its voter purges in 2017, and he wrote the 5–4 decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013.)

But ever since Kathrine Harris and Jeb Bush got away with stealing the 2000 election from Al Gore, Republicans have redoubled their efforts. When they suffered virtually no blowback or media exposure (beyond Greg Palast’s BBC reports) for the open theft of the presidency, that election became a major turning point for amping up Republican election fraud across the nation.

Months before the election, Florida Governor Jeb Bush had his Secretary of State, Kathryn Harris, throw around 90,000 African Americans off the voting rolls and then, just for good measure, invented a new category of ballots for the 2000 election: “Spoiled.”

“Spoiled ballots” were ballots mostly coming from Black neighborhoods where Bush’s and Harris’ people had installed old, defective, and unreliable punch-card voting card devices. When people weren’t sure all the right holes had been punched (because some hadn’t worked right), they’d often write in “Al Gore” in the “write in” space along with punching the Gore hole in the ballot.

This, according to Bush and Harris, “spoiled” the ballots so they didn’t need to be counted, although there is no state or federal law that would back up that claim and require those ballots to be ignored.

As The New York Times reported a year after the 2000 election when the consortium of newspapers they were part of finally recounted all the votes and discovered tens of thousands of uncounted ballots:

“While 35,176 voters wrote in Bush’s name after punching the hole for him, 80,775 wrote in Gore’s name while punching the hole for Gore. [Florida Secretary of State] Katherine Harris decided that these were all ‘spoiled’ ballots because they were both punched and written upon and ordered that none of them should be counted.”

The result was that 45,599 Florida ballots that were clearly intended to be cast for Al Gore were not counted. As the Times noted:

“Many were from African American districts, where older and often broken machines were distributed, causing voters to write onto their ballots so their intent would be unambiguous.”

George W. Bush “won” the election by 537 votes in Florida, because the statewide recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court—which would have revealed and counted the “spoiled” ballots, handing the election to Gore (who’d won the popular vote by over a half-million)—was stopped when GHW Bush appointee Clarence Thomas became the deciding vote on the Supreme Court to block the recount order from the Florida Supreme Court.

Since then, Republican voter purge efforts have gone on steroids. More recently, a shocking 2023 study from Demos lays out the dimensions of this voter purge crisis of democracy brought to us by an increasingly desperate GOP.

Republicans are doing this because they know that their policies are unpopular: most Americans aren’t fans of tax cuts for billionaires, more pollution, deregulation, high-priced drugs, privatizing Medicare, ending Social Security, criminalizing abortion and birth control, student debt, hating on Black and queer people, and the GOP’s war on unions and working people.

So, the GOP does everything they can to make voting difficult or even impossible, particularly for people in heavily Democratic neighborhoods (which are usually college towns, big cities, and Black neighborhoods).

When Republicans run elections in such areas (typically Blue cities in Red states), they’ll close or change polling places at the last minute to sow confusion and cause people to give up when they show up at their normal polling place and find it closed.

For example, in last fall’s election in Ohio the state changed polling places for voters in heavily Black Cuyahoga and Summit counties just five days before the election, as Newsweek noted in an article titled “Ohio GOP Changing Polling Locations Days Before Election Raises Questions.”

Ohio voters were outraged, and that outrage spread across X (formerly Twitter) with comments like this:

“The Ohio GOP is playing ‘Your polling place has moved’ with 47,000 voters in the largest African American voting county in Ohio—just five days before the election. Making it harder to vote—in the crucial August 8th special election (deciding if a majority of voters still can amend Ohio’s state constitution)—is wrong.”

Another X user noted:

“Ohio Republicans are so damn shady! … This stinks to high heaven. At the last minute, before Ohio’s special election, polling locations were changed in Cuyahoga and Summit counties. More than 47,000 voters are affected by changes to 50 voting precincts.”

The fact that this little trick in Ohio last fall got virtually no national press coverage guarantees Red states will be doing more of it in the upcoming 2023 and 2024 elections.

But that’s just the beginning.

Knowing that working-class people are less likely to vote Republican than white upper-class suburbanites, Republicans also engineer polling situations so people paid by the hour will have to wait for hours in line to vote, losing out on income.

Every year, we’re treated to pictures and videos of hours-long lines to vote in Blue cities in Red states, while lines in white suburbs in those same states typically run less than 10 to 15 minutes.

Similarly, many Red states have imposed draconian penalties on people conducting voter registration drives for making even the smallest mistakes, or for failing to “properly register” themselves with the state. This has shut down many voter registration programs, including some from long-term organizations like the League of Women’s Voters.

As The Kansas Reflector newspaper noted, the penalty for even a minor, inadvertent error is now 17 months in the state prison and a $100,000 fine:

“The League of Women Voters of Kansas and other nonprofits are suspending voter registration drives for fear of criminal prosecution under a new state law.”

The League has sued FloridaTennessee, and Texas for their criminalization of voter registration drives as well.

But purging voters—by the tens of millions every election cycle—is where Republicans find their best result. As the Demos report notes:

“Between the close of registration for the 2020 general election and the close of registration for the 2022 general election, states reported removing 19,260,000 records from their voter registration rolls. This was equal to 8.5% of the total number of voters who were registered in the United States as of the close of registration for the 2022 general election.”

Additionally, 17 million voters were purged in the two years leading up to the 2018 election, fully ten percent of America’s voting population, according to the Brennan Center.

Given that the most radical purges took place among Black and youth voters in Republican-controlled Red states, those 8.5 percent and 10 percent “national averages” could well be two or three times that percentage in the states where these purges were concentrated.

They added, most of the purge activity was taking place in former Confederate Red states that—before five Republicans on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in their 2013 Shelby County decision—had to have purges pre-cleared by the federal government:

“The median purge rate over the 2016–2018 period in jurisdictions previously subject to preclearance [Red states] was 40 percent higher than the purge rate in jurisdictions that were not covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act [Blue states].”

More than a quarter of those purged during this period from 2016-2022 were removed from the rolls either because they failed to vote in the previous election or because they failed to return a postcard mailed out by a Republican secretary of state (that is usually designed to look like junk mail).

This is called “caging” and used to be illegal, but Sam Alito broke the tie and wrote the 5-4 decision in the 2018 Husted v A Phillip Randolph Institute decision when the five Republicans then on the Court ruled that Ohio Republican Secretary of State Husted could continue his practice of mailing the postcards into Ohio cities with the largest Black populations.

In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out that only around 4 percent of Americans move out of their county every year. Yet, he wrote:

“The record shows that in 2012 Ohio identified about 1.5 million registered voters—nearly 20% of its 8 million registered voters—as ineligible to remain on the federal voter roll because [Republican Secretary of State Husted said that] they changed their residences.”

The Brennan Center found that just between 2014 and 2016, in the two years leading up to the Hillary/Trump presidential election, over 14 million people were purged from voter rolls, largely in Republican-controlled states. Then-Secretary of State Brian Kemp purged over a million voters in Georgia alone in 2018, leading up to his 50,000-vote win that year against Stacey Abrams.

Calling the findings “disturbing,” the Brennan Center noted:

“Almost 4 million more names were purged from the rolls between 2014 and 2016 [just after the Supreme Court legalized large-scale no-oversight voter purges in 2013] than between 2006 and 2008. This growth in the number of removed voters represented an increase of 33 percent—far outstripping growth in both total registered voters (18 percent) and total population (6 percent).”

Another strategy that the GOP has rolled out in a big way to suppress the vote in Blue areas of Red states is “strict signature matching.” They primarily use this against voters who’ve succeeded in obtaining vote-by-mail ballots, which are authenticated by comparing the signature on the envelope with the voter’s registration card.

Because signatures change over time and often vary a lot when people are in a hurry, this is low-hanging fruit for the GOP.  Last year they started a program to field an “army” of 50,000 “poll watchers,” including interviewing candidates from among white supremacist militia groups, for the 2024 election.

While some of these poll watchers will be on hand to try to intimidate or challenge Black and young voters (a practice that’s legal in most Red states), many will be overseeing the counting of mail-in ballots, which are generally more Democratic than Republican.

All they have to do is claim that, in their opinion, a signature doesn’t match and the ballot goes into the “provisional” pile and won’t be counted until or unless the voter shows up in person at the county elections office. Most people never even know their ballot was challenged and not counted.

Meanwhile, the GOP in Texas is quietly recruiting 10,000 white volunteers “courageous” enough to go into Black and Hispanic polling places and confront people trying to vote.

As Jessica Corbett reported for Common Dreams:

“Common Cause Texas on Thursday shared a leaked video of a Harris County GOP official discussing plans to ‘build an army’ of 10,000 election workers and poll watchers, including some who ‘will have the confidence and courage’ to go into Black and Brown communities to address alleged voter fraud that analyses show does not actually exist.”

Which brings us back to last weekend’s report about the aggressive voter roll purges detailed in The New York Times. Not only are they trying to strip people of their right to vote, but they’re also laying the groundwork to challenge Democratic winners after the election.

The Times reporters found that even when Republican efforts to get clerks to remove Democratic voters from the rolls fail, the registration purgers consider that a victory because they will then use the initial allegation that those voters were “fraudulent” as the basis to contest the election after the fact—as Trump tried to do in 2020—by claiming they should have been stripped from the rolls.

As Joanna Lydgate, the chief executive of the nonpartisan States United Democracy Center, told the Times, in some cases:

“It really is aimed at being able to cast doubt on the results after the fact.”

Voting in Red states has become difficult, and registering voters is now treacherous since five Republicans on the Supreme Court legalized all these tricks and strategies to purge or discourage Democratic voters.

If you live in a Blue area of a Red state, or one of the swing states that will decide the next president, get ready: the GOP is pulling out all the stops for this fall’s election.

Double-check your voter registration every month or two at Vote.org, and be sure to double-check it in the weeks just before the deadline for registration, as Republican Secretaries of State prefer to purge people in this window so by the time people discovered they’re purged it’s too late to re-register. And let your friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors know that they need to do the same.

Forewarned is forearmed. Pass it on.

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann

Thom Hartmann, one of America’s leading public intellectuals and the country’s #1 progressive talk show host, writes fresh content six days a week. The Monday-Friday “Daily Take” articles are free to all, while paid subscribers receive a Saturday summary of the week’s news and, on Sunday, a chapter excerpt from one of his books.

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