The media’s blind spot: Why blatant efforts to suppress voter participation has been mostly ignored
“Data released by the Georgia secretary of state showed that mail voting in the state’s November general election plunged by 81 percent from the level of the 2020 contest. While a drop was expected after the height of the pandemic, Georgia had a far greater decrease than any other state with competitive statewide races, according to a New York Times analysis.”
– The New York Times, “Turnout Was Strong in Georgia, but Mail Voting Plummets After New Law”
Ever since 5 Republicans on the Supreme Court blocked full enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, the GOP is making voting easier for rural and suburban white people and harder for urban Black people. Particularly in Georgia.
This is voter suppression at a world-class level, worthy of Putin or Orbán.
Donald Trump tells us that Joe Stalin once said words to the effect of, “It doesn’t matter who votes; what matters is who counts the votes.” Republicans in Georgia are today engaged in an act of political treachery worthy of Stalin’s quote.
There’s history here.
Grab the nearest Republican and ask them, “How did John Kennedy win the election in 1960?” Most will answer, “Mayor Daley stole the election in Chicago.“
In the modern era, that was the original sore-loser “voter fraud” story, and, of course, it came out of Richard Nixon and the GOP.
But, Jack Kennedy could’ve lost the entire state of Illinois and still would’ve had enough electoral votes (he won 303 to 219) to become president. He didn’t need Chicago. On top of that, Republicans insisted on, and got, two separate audits of the vote in Illinois, one immediately after the election and one in 1961 after Kennedy’s inauguration, and both showed that Kennedy won.
But Republicans still think Mayor Daley stole the day for JFK.
The persistence of political lies and mythology is extraordinary when a party is committed to perpetuating them, as Republicans have been about hanging onto this 62-year-old meme of “voter fraud.”
This isn’t just about grievance, though. After having their asses handed to them by both Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, the GOP got busy.
As I detailed yesterday, Richard Nixon rolled out his new “Southern Strategy” to pick up the white racist vote in the South that LBJ abandoned when he signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act in 1964/1965.
And then, starting in a big way in the early 1980s, the GOP started doing something about “voter fraud.”
Only problem: there is no consequential “voter fraud” in the United States and, outside of rigged elections in the pre-Civil War South, probably never has been. People just wouldn’t stand for it.
But Republicans have succeeded in chasing this unicorn for three generations because it’s a great excuse to make it harder for “some people” to vote or have their votes counted.
Republicans hyping a non-existent problem into a crisis is nothing new, and worked well for them with drugs back in the day. Now they’re repeating the scam around non-existent “voter fraud,” which is really just a variation — strategically speaking — on Nixon’s drug war of the 1970s.
Nixon, elected in 1968 after sabotaging LBJ’s efforts to end the Vietnam War, intended to run for re-election in 1972. Yet by 1971 he and his war were increasingly unpopular, particularly in the Black community (that was taking the brunt of the draft as white people were easily getting college and bone-spur exemptions) and generally hated by young people of all races.
So he huddled with his top advisors Haldemann and Ehrlichman to come up with a strategy to win the upcoming election.
The product of those planning sessions burst into public view on June 17, 1971 when Nixon officially rolled out his brand-spanking-new “War on Drugs.”
As Nixon’s right hand man, John Ehrlichman, told reporter Dan Baum:
“You want to know what this was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and Black people. Do you understand what I’m saying?
“We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and Blacks with heroin and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.
“We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.
“Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
While Nixon at least could point to drug users arrested by the police, until recently the GOP had simply howled into the wind about “voter fraud” without evidence. Who would be dumb enough, after all, to intentionally risk going to jail to cast a single vote?
So Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott put their police to work in a way truly worthy of Nixon’s best efforts, and, sure enough, they found a handful of Black people who didn’t realize it was illegal to vote in those states if they’d had a felony conviction. In fact, the states of Florida and Texas had helped them register to vote!
They were promptly re-arrested and paraded in front of the cameras.
That had two effects, both intended.
First, it scared the hell out of a lot of Black people who knew well how selectively laws can be enforced against them and how easy it is to get a white jury to throw a Black person in jail for just about anything.
Black voter turnout in Florida appears to have collapsed following those arrests this year, apparently taking down the Democratic Party with it. As the Miami NBC TV affiliate noted, city-dwelling [Black] Democrats simply failed to show up:
“DeSantis flipped counties President Joe Biden won in 2022: Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Duval. One major problem for Democrats was a mismatch in turnout. Republican registered voters showed up, and Democrats did not, according to unofficial results posted online by Florida’s supervisors of elections.
“In Miami-Dade County, there are 135,229 more registered Democrats than Republicans, but more Republicans showed up: 61% of registered Republicans voted and only 46% of Democrat registered voters.
“There are 106,299 more registered Democrats than Republicans in Palm Beach County. 55% of registered Democrats showed up and 66% of Republicans showed up.
“The same thing happened in Central and North Florida in several major urban areas. There are 53,156 more registered Democrats than Republicans in Hillsborough County but only 39% of Democrats showed up and 44% of Republicans showed up to vote.
“In North Florida’s Duval County, there are 31,173 more registered Democrats than Republicans, but 65% of Republican voters voted compared to 49% of Democrats.”
Second, high-profile arrests for “voter fraud” gave credibility to the Republican’s nationwide efforts to make it harder to vote, particularly for people living in cities. (The real red/blue divide in America is geographic: rural areas are overwhelmingly Republican, cities mostly Democratic.)
The next low-hanging fruit for the Republican voters suppression effort was attacking mail-in voting.
In most states when you vote by mail you sign your ballot or the envelope that contains it and an election monitor or judge can decide if your signature matches that of your voter registration card or drivers’ license.
Signatures change over time, and people also tend to write their signatures differently when they’re in a hurry, like at the DMV. So the GOP launched a campaign to get Republican election monitors out to “check signatures for fraud” in precincts were large percentages of Democrats vote.
Which makes it easy for these election monitors to “challenge” your vote, meaning it won’t be counted unless or until you show up in person to verify that you are actually you. That happens maybe, I’m guessing (there are no reliable statistics), around 1 percent of the time.
Mail-in ballots are also vulnerable to late delivery, particularly since Lewis DeJoy slowed down our mail months before the 2020 election by destroying over a hundred high-speed multi-million-dollar mail sorting machines.
People prefer, therefore, to drop their ballots in a drop box to make sure they’ll get promptly counted.
But in Georgia, Governor Kemp signed a law, SB 202, that has measurably changed how Georgians must vote. As investigative reporter Greg Palast documented:
- “From the 2020/2021 elections to November 2022, mail-in ballots in Georgia plummeted by over 1 million, a breathtaking 81% loss of ballots — concentrated in Black-majority urban counties.
- “A principal cause of this drop-off: SB202, signed into law last year, limits dropboxes to no more than one per one-hundred thousand active voters. This limit affects ONLY the four large Greater Atlanta counties which are 59.7% non-white. The law shuttered 77% of Atlanta-area dropboxes, declining from 107 to 25.
- “At the same time, small rural counties were required to ADD at least one dropbox. The result: a radical reduction in dropboxes in urban non-white counties to 55,862 voters per dropbox. In the remainder of Georgia, 65% white, only 18,000 voters must share a dropbox, a 314% difference.
- “Absentee balloting in the four Atlanta-area counties plummeted by 83%, not only because of the limits on number of dropboxes, but because SB202 slashed their availability: Dropboxes could only be placed INSIDE county offices and early voting stations. This sabotages the purpose of dropboxes — providing access to those with jobs or obligations that require voting outside business hours.”
Kemp was ready for those people who decided to vote in person this time, too. As Palast noted:
“The reduction in Election Run-off time from two months to just 28 days has slashed early voting to only between 5 and 7 days.”
This brought out the GOP’s second favorite voter suppression method: long lines in Democratic strongholds.
Working class people can’t afford to spend half a day waiting in line to vote, and Republicans know it.
Long lines to vote in majority-Republican precincts are largely non-existent nationwide, but every election we’re treated to pictures of them in majority-Democratic precincts.
And let’s not forget the current favorite method of voter suppression used by Republican governors and secretaries of state: voter purges.
The first time Brian Kemp faced Stacey Abrams for governor of Georgia, for example, he purged 107,000 people off the voting rolls just prior to the election, all of them registered voters who failed to return a caging card.
He “won” by 50,000 votes, and then repeated his efforts again this year through his Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger (whose name, ironically, is correctly pronounced “Raff–ens–purger”).
Raffensperger recently sent caging letters to 185,666 Georgians while Stacey Abrams was frantically trying to get 100,000 voters registered to make up for the purges.
When Democrats sued Ohio’s Secretary of State John Husted (for his voter purges in that state’s largest cities) in the 2018 case Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, Supreme Court Associate Justice Sam Alito opened his decision approving of the new GOP voter purge strategy, codifying the GOP “voter fraud” scam by quoting meaningless statistics:
“It has been estimated that 24 million voter registrations in the United States—about one in eight—are either invalid or significantly inaccurate. And about 2.75 million people are said to be registered to vote in more than one State.”
It’s a completely empty argument because those numbers, while accurate, don’t mean that any of those inaccurate, invalid, or duplicate voter registrations are ever used.
It’s rare that people who move from state to state bother to notify the Secretary of State of the state they left that they no longer live there, so of course there are many Americans registered to vote in multiple states or at wrong addresses.
In the past 45 years, I’ve moved from Michigan to New Hampshire to Germany to Georgia to Vermont to Oregon to Washington DC and back to Oregon. I’ve never notified anybody that I’d left the state I moved from. And there’s nothing wrong with that: it’s normal.
Most people do the same as me, and that doesn’t mean any of them are fraudulently voting: this, like the “voter fraud” scam, is a “problem” that does not need a solution. States generally remove people from voting rolls when drivers’ licenses expire and are not renewed, or when people stop paying state income taxes. It’s slightly slower, but works just fine.
Nonetheless, Alito thought it was a fine excuse to give the legal endorsement to Republican voter purging on an industrial scale.
In her dissent, Justice Sotomayor wrote:
“It is unsurprising in light of the history of such purge programs that numerous amici report that the Supplemental Process has disproportionately affected minority, low-income, disabled, and veteran voters.
“As one example, amici point to an investigation that revealed that in Hamilton County, ‘African-American-majority neighborhoods in downtown Cincinnati had 10% of their voters removed due to inactivity’ since 2012, as compared to only 4% of voters in a suburban, majority-white neighborhood.”
But the five Republicans on the Court prevailed, and Ohio’s purger-in-chief John Husted hailed his victory and this new way of purging Democratic-leaning voters as a “model for other [Republican] states” to follow.
Purging Democratic voters from the rolls has now gone nationwide, at least in states where voting is controlled by Republicans.
Greg Palast estimates there were at least 4 million fully legal and appropriately registered voters purged just this election year, although the history Pew documented from 2016-1018 suggests the number may be over ten million.
Which brings us back to where I started this rant.
Our national media is all over “Nazi talk from the GOP,” but where’s their concern about these blatant efforts to suppress the Democratic vote in Georgia?
The failure of the media to cover this abomination — perhaps because it’s not a “both sides do it” story — is a journalistic crime.
And not just because it lets Kemp and his buddies get away with something that puts an ice-pick into the heart of our democracy, but also because it encourages his colleagues in other states to do the same.
And do the same they are: variations on the draconian limits on voting imposed this year in Georgia, Florida, and Texas are being cloned in every Republican-controlled state in the nation as you read these words.
“Voter fraud” today is every bit as phony an issue as it was when Nixon rolled it out in the years just before his “War On Drugs.” But massaging the voting rolls works for authoritarian regimes around the world, and the GOP sees it as the only way to seize and hold power.
The Democratic Party and America’s media need to get clear about this, before the GOP succeeds in turning at least half of our states — and eventually our entire nation — into pseudo-democracies like Hungary and Russia.