By Larry Levine –
The U.S. is in the early stages of what will be the most massive and well-financed voter suppression operation in American history. It will be fought in the courts and in the streets, at polling places, in the offices of elections administrators and any place else supporters of President Donald Trump think they can shutdown votes against him.
It will be conducted by white supremacists, white nationalists, armed militias, the KKK, foreign operatives, the Republican National Committee and well-financed super PACs formed to support Trump’s reelection.
The goal will be to deprive voters inclined to support former Vice President Joe Biden of the ability to cast ballots. To do this they will destroy ballot believed to be for Biden, frighten people away from polling places where Biden supporters are likely to vote, thwart the counting of ballots favorable to Biden, and in other ways work to assure Trump’s re-election.
Their arsenal will include semi-automatic assault weapons, gasoline and matches, official-looking uniforms and credentials, and other things an honest person could not anticipate. They will have the overt and covert support of the U.S. Department of Justice, numerous governors, state and federal legislators, secretaries of state, local police, mayors and city councilmembers, the National Guard, retired police officers and military personnel, and Trump-appointed judges and other conservative jurists.
When I first warned of these probabilities more than a year ago, people thought I was joking. Later, I was accused of being “over the top”. Now, Georgetown University law professor Rosa Brooks has pulled together a group of Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans to contemplate ways in which Trump and the Republican Party might attack the electoral process, although they represent their group as non-partisan and deny the target is Trump.
No amount of their academic musing will stop this attack because they cannot begin to imagine the unimaginable lengths to which the operation will go to hold onto the White House and majority control of the U.S. Senate.
The antidote to this lies in the Democrats conducting the most massive and well-financed get-out-the vote operation in history. Whether the current generation of Democratic political operatives understands this and knows how to do it remains to be seen. It might be wise to bring in some of the consultants from earlier generations, when boots-on-the-ground campaigning was the order of the day.
Political campaign veteran James Carville recently said he expects “Republicans will kill people, literally, to stay in power.” As outlandish as it may once have sounded, he may be right. Here are some of the things I expect we will see in the next six months.
DOMESTIC TERRORISTS WILL DESTROY BALLOTS AFTER THEY ARE CAST – There will be many states in which drop-boxes are provided so voters can deposit absentee ballots instead of mailing them in. These will be easy targets for anyone with a hoodie, a can of gasoline, and a match. We already have seen activists in Michigan stage Operation Incinerator as a protest against the state sending letters to voters promoting voting by absentee ballot. With fire already is in their minds, it’s only a short leap to torching drop-boxes in minority communities. Ballots will be burned, never counted and no one will be able to tell which voters were deprived of their right to have the ballots counted.
ARMED PATROLS WILL INTIMIDATE PEOPLE TRYING TO VOTE – A few months ago, this notion would have been seen as paranoid. But it’s happened before and a two-year-old court decision has opened the gates for it to happen again.
The Republican Party is recruiting 50,000 volunteers in 15 states to monitor polling places in November, according to a New York Times report. It’s part of a $20 million budget to suppress the vote Biden vote.
Among those being recruited are retired military personnel and police officers. That will be the organized effort. It undoubtedly will be supplemented by militias, white and supremacists, the KKK and other similar groups. Many of theses were among the armed demonstrators who occupied the state houses in Kentucky and Michigan early this year to demand re-opening of the economy. Demonstrators carrying semi-automatic weapons were seen in photos of protests in other states. On the night of June 15, a militia member shot an anti-racism protestor in Albuquerque NM. The shooter was quickly surrounded by other armed militia members to protect him.
On Election Day, I expect “Defend America” troops, carrying official-looking credentials, many in homemade official-looking uniforms, and many with frightening weapons, will be stationed at polling places to protect the country against a “socialist takeover” by “anti-second-amendment forces.” They will be met, in many cases, by Democratic Party get-out-the-vote workers and here is where Carville’s prediction is most likely to become reality.
IN THE COURTS – Election law expert Justin Levitt, Associate Dean for Research at Loyola Law School, spent weeks gathering information about lawsuits already filed in connection with this election. He’s dealing only with suits associated with the coronavirus pandemic as they relate to election issues. As of June 15 he identified 117 cases in 36 states and the District of Columbia. “I’m 100 percent sure I’m missing some,” he said. These don’t count cases with issues apart from the pandemic.
Many of these lawsuits are over the issue of absentee voting. Republicans, from Trump on down, are hell bent for blocking as much absentee voting as possible. Democrats take the opposite view. So, when a state makes even the slightest move to make it easier to vote by mail, Republicans are in court. In states where legislators are making it more difficult or refusing to ease existing restrictions, the Democrats head for court. In each instance, the other side shows up with attorneys to weigh in.
The courtroom battles will continue through Election Day and probably beyond. Republican led states will close polling places in minority areas. (Texas reduced 180 polling places in black areas to 5 in the Primary.) Polling locations in minority precincts will have an insufficient number of precincts while areas perceived as favorable to Trump with have more than enough. Voting machines will malfunction in minority areas and poll workers will show up late, leading to requests for judges to extend voting hours in those areas.
After Election Day, when states are still processing and counting late absentee and provisional ballots, teams of lawyers will be looking over the shoulders of elections officials, arguing whether certain ballot should be counted. And if it’s really close and Biden might win a state like Florida, look for gangs of Republicans, thugs dressed in business suits, to do what they did in 2000, when the physically occupied the Broward County elections office, intimidated staff into leaving with the count unfinished and handed the election to George W. Bush.
In the meantime, Republican dominated states will continue to pass voting restriction laws and Democratic lawyers will be pushing courts to overturn those laws. There will be voter ID laws, laws requiring absentee ballots be notarized, and laws imposing complex multi-step requirements for voting by mail. Once such combination of laws just resulted in 9.6 percent of absentee ballots in the New Jersey Primary being invalidated.
Republican led states will push forward with plans to purge voter files and Democratic attorneys will step up to try to stop them.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has threatened criminal prosecution of those who tell voters they can request absentee ballots because they are not immune to the coronavirus or fear they might contract the disease.
Some states are moving toward sending absentee ballots to all voters in response to the coronavirus dangers. Others want to send absentee ballot applications. Republicans are in court opposing those moves.
LIES THAT UNDERMINE PARTICIPATION – The Brennan Center for Justice published an extensive report on false narratives that work to discourage confidence in the electoral process and election results. They identified the following as frequently told lies that dampen voter participation. We can expect to see and hear this frequently in the months ahead. They will be aimed at suppressing turnout in minority communities, younger voters, and independent voters.
• Voter fraud is rampant
• Non-citizens are voting in droves
• Malfunctioning machines are clearly rigged
• Something’s fishy – results are taking too long
• That’s not what the election night predications said
• Recounts, audits, and challenges are ways to steal elections
• People can’t help other people vote
• We need more aggressive purges of voter files to clear out ineligible voters
Marc Elias is a Washington lawyer who leads the Democratic National Committee’s legal efforts to fight voter suppression measures. When asked about speculation that Trump could change the date of the election or otherwise block voting in selected areas, he said his biggest concern is the possibility Trump could act in October to make it harder for people to vote in urban centers in battleground states, including declaring a state of emergency, deploying the National Guard or forbidding gatherings of more than 10 people.
(In a subsequent article we will discuss what steps the Democratic National Committee, the Trump campaign, and the Democratic Parties in the various states can do to fight back.)