Election Commission’s focus will lead to suppressive voting laws
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Last week’s meeting of the so-called Election Integrity Commission confirmed what was already clear: President TrumpDonald TrumpSt. Louis lawyer who pointed gun at Black Lives Matter protesters considering Senate run Chauvin found guilty as nation exhales US says Iran negotiations are 'positive' MORE’s panel will ignore real threats to the integrity of our elections — like Russian interference — to focus on the imagined danger of voter fraud. Using the threat of fraud, the commission will give cover to those who want to suppress legitimate votes, helping to justify onerous changes that make it harder to cast a ballot. Those changes would in turn leave voters unable to exercise their rights — and could easily swing the results of future elections.

Voter fraud of any kind is vanishingly rare, and there is no indication that organized voting fraud takes place. One 2014 review turned up 31 potential incidents across 15 years, in elections where more than 1 billion total ballots were cast. A person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit in-person fraud.

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In the popular vote last year, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPelosi on power in DC: 'You have to seize it' Cuba readies for life without Castro Chelsea Clinton: Pics of Trump getting vaccinated would help him 'claim credit' MORE defeated Donald Trump by almost 3 million votes. Inexplicably, the commission’s effective head, while providing no contrary evidence, has said that “we may never know” whether that fact is actually true.

The president contends, also without evidence, that Clinton’s margin came from “millions of people who voted illegally.” Both arguments are laughably false and incredibly dangerous — which is why leaders from both parties, including numerous Republican election officials, have vigorously challenged claims of fraud.

This commission is a fiction to undermine the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Donald Trump won the election by winning the Electoral College. That is a true fact, just as it is a true fact that Clinton won the popular vote. Rather than simply accept his legitimate and valid electoral victory, President Trump has chosen to use this commission to throw significant doubts on the actual numbers. Now, this commission will use the red herring of voter fraud to legitimize and institute dangerous voter suppression.

Across the country, lawmakers have limited early voting, or required that voters provide unnecessary documentation, or instituted other barriers. Photo ID requirements present little problem for those with driver’s licenses — but many voters do not have such licenses. In fact, up to 11 percent of adult U.S. citizens lack any form of government-issued photo ID. These Americans are likelier than average to be young, poor or African-American — when a state imposes a photo ID requirement, it is effectively targeting those groups.

Suppressive laws can have far-reaching effects. A 2014 study by the Government Accountability Office concluded that stricter voter ID requirements in Kansas and Tennessee drove down turnout by two to three percentage points in the 2012 general election. Turnout fell significantly further among young people and African-Americans — groups that, not coincidentally, skew Democratic. In effect, those states’ elections were held on unfair, tilted playing fields. Elections are often close, and suppressive laws can easily alter outcomes.

Politicians can use this knowledge for their own gains. In 2013, in North Carolina, Republican state legislators passed a law that ended same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting, slashed early voting opportunities and imposed a photo ID requirement. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit would later rule that the state’s GOP majority had sought to “entrench itself … by targeting voters who, based on race, were unlikely to vote for the majority party.” They had targeted African-Americans, the court held, “with almost surgical precision,” seeking to “impose cures for problems that did not exist” in what amounted to an act of “racial discrimination.”

Other states have taken similar steps, with similar effects.

Voter suppression, not voter fraud, is the great domestic threat to our elections. Suppression, not fraud, is the danger on which the administration should have fixed. Because the commission so widely missed the mark, it ought to be dissolved; I am a proud co-sponsor of Rep. Cedric Richmond’s (D-La.) Anti-Voter Suppression Act, which would do exactly that.

Congress has a responsibility to chart a better course to make it easier for citizens to participate in the process. Our democracy is strengthened when Americans are engaged and vote. I am proud to co-sponsor bills that promote automatic or same-day voter registration, ensure adequate access to early and no-excuse absentee voting, restore the Voting Rights Act, deter foreign interference in our elections and take other steps to secure our rights.

These are the options before us: We can silence more and more voices for partisan gain, or we can dedicate ourselves anew to government that is truly of, by, and for the people. I am heartened to see so many citizens fighting hard, every day, to defend our great democratic tradition. I am honored to serve with so many colleagues who share that commitment. And I am confident that together, we will win. 

McEachin represents Virginia’s 4th District.


The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.