On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, ruling that states with the longest histories of voter discrimination no longer had to seek approval from the federal government for changes to their election procedures. A month after that decision, North Carolina—where 40 counties had previously been subject to that requirement—passed the country’s most sweeping voting restrictions.
The state implemented an onerous photo-ID requirement, cut a week of early voting, and eliminated same-day voter registration, out-of-precinct voting, and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. On July 29 of this year, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit invalidated these restrictions, saying that they “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” The court found that the state GOP had intentionally discriminated against people of color, and it called the elimination of voting on the Sunday before the election—when black churches hold “souls to the polls” mobilization drives—“as close to a smoking gun as we are likely to see in modern times.”
It was the first in a remarkable string of voting-rights victories, as federal courts in late July and early August ruled against the GOP’s efforts to make it harder to vote in six different states. The decisions in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Texas, Michigan, Kansas, and North Dakota—by Republican- as well as Democratic-appointed judges—struck down laws that required strict voter ID, reduced early voting, and hindered voter registration.
As their party’s war on voting hit a roadblock in the courts, Republican hysteria reached panic levels. Party leaders attacked the court decisions, while Donald Trump proclaimed that the election would be “rigged” for Hillary Clinton and that without voter-ID laws, “we may have people vote 10 times.” Like so much of what Trump says, his claims are totally divorced from the facts: Since 2000, there have been only 31 credible incidents of voter impersonation in the United States, out of 1 billion votes cast. By comparison, there are 300 deaths and injuries from lightning each year.
Even so, Trump’s lies need to be confronted head-on, since they could lead to violence and intimidation at the polls in November and discredit the election of the first woman president. Anyone in the media who repeats Trump’s assertions without debunking them is committing journalistic malpractice. As CNN’s Brian Stelter pointed out, Trump “is trying to delegitimize our democratic process without proof.”
In fact, many more people have been blocked from the polls by GOP voter-suppression efforts than have cast fraudulent votes. This is the real threat of election rigging. In North Carolina, for example, more than 2,300 ballots were rejected in 2014 because of the state’s elimination of same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting, while there have been only two cases of voter impersonation in the past decade. As a federal judge in Wisconsin noted: “A preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities.”
Even with these recent victories, 15 states have new voting restrictions in place for the 2016 presidential elections. Voters are being purged from the rolls in Ohio; ex-offenders have lost the right to vote in Virginia; and police are questioning the registration status of African Americans in Georgia.
On August 6, the 51st anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, the Republican National Committee released a statement saying that the party “remains committed to ensuring access and fairness at the ballot box.” This was not a joke. If the GOP were really serious about “protecting future generations’ right to vote,” it would cease its voter-suppression efforts and hold a vote in Congress—before the election—on legislation to restore the VRA. We’re not holding our breath.