Editorials: The 200-Year History of Using Voter Fraud Fears to Block Access to the Ballot | Pema Levy/Mother Jones
It seemed inevitable after evidence of voting irregularities appeared in the contested race in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District: Republicans used the problems to push for tighter voting laws last month. Voting restrictions in the name of fraud prevention have been at the forefront of Donald Trump’s presidency ever since he claimed in the wake of his election that millions of fraudulent votes had been cast against him and he created a commission to investigate voter fraud. (Never mind that the commission failed to document any evidence of widespread fraud, or that North Carolina’s issues appeared to stem from impropriety on the part of the Republican candidate’s campaign, not voters.) But raising fears of fraud in order to make it harder for people—particularly people fitting certain demographic profiles—to vote didn’t start with this administration, or even in the past 100 years. As Harvard University historian Alexander Keyssar lays out in his 2000 book, The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, the tactic dates back to the early decades of the 19th century. Throughout US history, politicians and activists ginned up stories about fraud in order to keep their opponents from the polls. “Legislative debates were sprinkled heavily with tales of ballot box stuffing, miscounts, hordes of immigrants lined up to vote as the machine instructed, men trooping from precinct to precinct to vote early and often,” he writes.