The most important aspect of any democratic election is participation. A democracy gains its legitimacy through elections only so far as those elections represent the will of the people. Limit voter participation, and there is a direct correlation between the legitimacy of an election and the democratic system. President Trump and Vice-President Pence’s “election integrity” commission is unequivocally declaring war on voters – our democratic legitimacy be damned. The commission recently sent a letter to all 50 states asking that they provide all the names and associated birthdays, last four digits of social security numbers, addresses, political parties, and voting histories since 2006 of people on their voter rolls. This letter is helping to lay the groundwork for nationalized voter suppression. The commission is requesting the same information that Republican state governments have used to create hyper-partisan gerrymandering and enact restrictive voter ID laws. Such measures have been disturbingly successful at suppressing voting of minority and low-income citizens, groups that tend to vote with Democrats. This assault on voters might seem farfetched, except that we’ve seen this strategy too many times before to claim ignorance now.
After slavery ended, white elites invented felony disenfranchisement as a means to delegitimize black citizens and prevent them from gaining influence. We saw Jim Crow gut-punch our democracy in yet another attempt to disenfranchise minorities. We are witnessing history repeating itself.
Nationally, the Democratic party is gaining support as the country’s demographics become increasingly diverse. The majority of black, Native American, Hispanic and Asian voters vote as Democrats. The Republican party has known for several years now that its best tactic to cling to power is not to build a party worth supporting, but to deny participation in the political process to Democratic party voters.
Making matters worse, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Office, long heralded as the ultimate guarantor of civil rights, including voting rights, might unknowingly be supporting the commission’s efforts. The Civil Rights Office sent out a letter on Wednesday, the same day as the commission sent its letter, seeking information from states on how they maintain their voter rolls. The office charged with upholding the 1965 Voting Rights Act must resist playing a leading role in further dismantling this most fundamental democratic right.