Right’s war on voters

January 21, 2020

From the January-February 2020 issue of News & Letters

Early voting has already begun in some state primary elections, but lawsuits in at least four states could affect critical races including the presidential election this November. Republican state officials around the country are enacting policies to depress the vote of poor people, students, and people of color to extend their minority control of state and federal government.

Florida voters enacted a ballot measure in 2018 that restored voting rights to people convicted of felonies other than murder or sex crimes who had completed their sentence. The next May, the Florida legislature required payment of all restitution, fines and fees, including what prisoners are charged for subsistence while in prison, before a sentence is considered completed. In October, part of the law was blocked in federal court, but it is still on appeal.


Two other battleground states, North Carolina and Wisconsin, gerrymandered their Congressional and state legislative districts after 2010 Republican electoral gains. Last June, after years of litigation, the maps were brought to the U.S. Supreme Court for a second time, only to get a 5-4 decision that only state courts rule on redistricting.

A Wisconsin state judge ordered on Jan. 13 that the elections board must delete 209,000 people from the voting rolls immediately or face daily fines, despite the fact that the Wisconsin Justice Department is appealing his ruling. The voters to be removed did not respond to a postcard sent to their address on file within 30 days. Ohio, which followed a similar procedure in September, has already purged 235,000 voter registrations. John Kennedy in 1960 was the last president to be elected without carrying Ohio.

North Carolina voters in 2018 approved a state constitutional amendment to require photo identification for voting. This is also blocked in federal court under appeal.

In Georgia—whose sitting governor, Brian Kemp, as Secretary of State had closed 214 voting stations and cancelled 1.4 million registrations ahead of his own election to the governorship and left heavily-Black precincts with fewer voting machines before being “elected” governor in 2018—voters are still being purged by the hundreds of thousands. After purging 308,000 names last December, the state admitted an error and restored 22,000.

Georgia is one of only two states that now require an exact match between the names on the voter registry and the DMV registry. Data firm L2 found that if the exact match policy were applied nationwide, one third of legitimate U.S. voters would be flagged for removal.

Georgia is also among several states that use a so-called “use-it-or-lose-it” approach, which requires voters who don’t vote over x number of elections to constantly re-register. A Dec. 20 ruling in a court challenge to the exact match and use-it-or-lose-it purges in Georgia came down in favor of the state.


These are some of the most consequential efforts being waged by the Trump campaign and state Republicans to continue in power with support from a minority of the populace. Other long-standing problems include voting machines without a verifiable paper trail; the national database ERIC, which compares state registries and flags entries for removal based on a secret algorithm; the narrowing of voting hours and the closing of DMVs, and suppressing the vote of college students from families who live out of state.

The Republican Party under Trump boasts of its preference for an unrepresentative authoritarian form of government. The work of building a new society free from the current power relationships that govern capital and workers, dark and light-skinned people, women and men, young and old, humans and Earth, might be easier under bourgeois Democrats who are not busy destroying our ability to survive.                        

—Buddy Bell

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