Donald Trump election game plan buries the truth about voter fraud

Donald Trump election game plan buries the truth about voter fraud
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The searing images of the killing of George Floyd, along with the similar deaths of so many black men at the hands of police and vigilantes, have shattered the rosy illusion of equal justice under the law in this country. Under the light of that harsh reality, the recent sight of the long lines of largely African American voters waiting for hours in the summer heat to exercise the right to vote in Georgia has raised troubling issues.

Investigations could reveal that the botched primary could be blamed on coronavirus precautions and incompetence, which alone would portend disaster in the national election this fall. But after the documented voting irregularities in the close 2018 race between African American candidate Stacey Abrams and current Governor Brian Kemp, who just happened to be the secretary of state in charge of ensuring the fair election that year, the process in Georgia has no claim to the benefit of the doubt.

As Black Lives Matter protests continue to roil cities around the country, the issue of voter suppression, especially of minority citizens, should be front and center on the national reform agenda. President TrumpDonald John Trump Trump responds to calls to tear down monuments with creation of 'National Garden' of statues Trump: Children are taught in school to 'hate their own country' Trump accuses those tearing down statues of wanting to 'overthrow the American Revolution' MORE fired the opening salvos in that battle, claiming without evidence that, even in the midst of a pandemic, mail voting invites widespread fraud, when almost three dozen states already implement “no excuse” mail voting.

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The Republican National Committee and conservative activists have taken a cue from Trump, building a $20 million war chest and seeking to recruit 50,000 volunteers in swing states to act as poll monitors in November to challenge suspicious voter activity. A series of federal rulings and history suggest that activity would be voting while Black or Latino. Pushing false conspiracies about voter fraud to justify measures designed to suppress participation is corrupt and undemocratic, and targeting minority voters as part of such bad efforts because of who they elect is racist.

Trump has spun conspiracies on voter fraud ever since losing the popular vote, going so far as establishing a voter fraud commission that found no evidence of widespread voter fraud before it was abruptly shut down. He continues to use this playbook from our dark history. Even after Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that banned the use of literacy tests, poll taxes, and other tactics, federal courts determined that Republicans had tried to suppress minority voting under the guise of preventing fraud. A federal court banned Republican voter fraud activities in 1982 and then modified and reissued the order in 1986 and 1990, each time after finding that the party continued to try and suppress minority voting.

Conservative efforts to stock the federal courts, however, have started to bear fruit over the last decade. In 2014, the Supreme Court struck down a critical provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a decision that states with a legacy of voter discrimination do not have to receive the clearance from the federal courts or the Justice Department before changing voting procedures for elections. Further, in 2018, a federal court ruled that in the first time in nearly four decades, Republicans could once again mount the purported voter fraud campaigns without any prior approval.

The result has been the creative reimagining of the literacy tests and poll taxes of yore expressed in new restrictive voter identification laws such as “exact match” examinations of documents, the arbitrary closing of polling places in minority communities, purges of voting rolls, new limits on early voting, and objections to mail voting in the deadly pandemic. Republican lawmakers in at least four states, including Georgia, have announced the establishment of task forces to search for elusive voter fraud.

In 2013, after losing the popular vote in five of the last six elections for president, the Republican National Committee produced a report that advocated for real reform. Its officials argued that the party needed to propose comprehensive immigration reform and recruit more minority candidates to appeal to a broader coalition. Indeed, Republicans have taken part in a number of recent bipartisan efforts to ensure more fair elections, including reform of the gerrymandering of districts.

Yet instead of the hard work of outreach, Trump has doubled down on a strategy of pandering to his base and suppressing minority voters with a lie. As recent events laid bare, that choice not only betrays the principles of the party of Abraham Lincoln, it is absolutely injurious to a democracy founded on the ideals of equal justice and fair representation.

James Kitfield is a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. Follow him on Twitter @JamesKitfield.