Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook, a new film from American Issues Initiative, reveals for the first time and in frightening detail the dark, partisan genius behind the decades-long strategy to disenfranchise nonwhite voters.
The dangerous toll this strategy is taking on the sacred principle of “one person/one vote” is not lost on Representative Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who says, “I fear that young people will not have the kind of democracy that I experienced.”
Ironically, the film’s key jumping-off point is Barack Obama’s victory in 2008, when 25 percent of his vote came from African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans. It sent a clarion call to Republicans that unless they took drastic action, they faced exile in the political wilderness and possible extinction as a party. Demographics were not on their side.
Republicans had two choices: (1) Develop new policies to appeal to the rising majority of minority voters; or, in the words of former Republican strategist Mark McKinnon, (2) figure “out how you turn out more of your people and less of the other guys.” As Rigged sadly details, Republicans opted for the latter—deciding to find new ways to suppress the vote.
During the 2016 election, the filmmakers went on the road to see how this voter-suppression playbook would be put to use.
- In Cumberland County, North Carolina, the filmmakers capture a voter purge where the names of over 6,000 registered voters were removed by the clandestine efforts of a group called Voter Integrity Project. They then find and profile a wrongly purged Cumberland voter who is turned away at the polling place.
- In Edwards County, Texas, which is 50 percent Latino, the filmmakers profile a Latino voter who was jailed for voter fraud by a Republican sheriff seeking reelection. Matt Angle, a Texas native and Democratic strategist, says, “The whole idea is to make voting seem like a dangerous proposition—that it’s something that might get you in trouble.”
- In Jefferson City, Missouri, the filmmakers are there as the Missouri legislature votes to put on the November 2016 ballot an amendment mandating voter ID. Cassandra Gould, the daughter of a 1960s civil-rights worker, says, “Voter-restriction laws are dancing on my mother’s grave.” Voter ID is now the law in Missouri.
- The film notes that one thing did, in fact, go right during the 2016 elections. In the summer in 2016, federal courts overturned or amended voter-restriction laws or voter purges in Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, Georgia, and North Carolina.
Obviously, the next play for Republicans after 2016 would include changing the courts. President Trump is now appointing new judges at an unprecedented pace. During a 2018 speech, President Trump boasted, “I have now appointed 145 district judges—that’s world changing, country changing, USA changing, and we’re going all out!”
Meanwhile, the 2018 midterms saw more than its fair share of voter-suppression efforts, particularly in Georgia and Florida, but it also witnessed the passage of numerous citizen-led anti-gerrymandering initiatives. And in Florida, voters did away with a law that prevented over a million felons in Florida from being able to vote. So democracy is making a comeback!
All of this, and more is revealed in our new feature documentary, Rigged: The Voter Suppression Playbook. The film is narrated by Emmy Award– and TonyAward–winning actor, Jeffrey Wright.