New voter ID laws. Voting rolls being purged. Threats of foreign interference. Is the Black vote—and, that of all Americans—at risk in the November 6 midterm elections?
Take a look at some of what’s happening nationwide.
In Georgia, for instance, where candidate Stacey Abrams hopes to become the first Black woman governor in U.S. history, allegations around registration and absentee ballot discrepancies have already led to legal action.
In Florida and North Carolina, officials have reportedly purged voters’ names from lists at higher than normal rates. In North Dakota, court battles have erupted over voting rules critics say are especially burdensome to Native Americans who live on reservations. And according to research from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, dozens of states have put in place new rules that could make it harder for eligible voters to cast their ballots.
Some civil rights and voting advocates believe there’s nothing coincidental about these 21st Century voter suppression allegations. They point to Republican-controlled state legislatures, commissioners, and governors.
“Despite years of progress, it’s amazing the lengths to which Republicans have gone to make sure Blacks in America are denied their constitutional right to choose their own leaders,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, president and founder of the National Action Network. “Increased barriers around the country [are] making it harder for Blacks to vote.”
The 1965 Voting Rights Act outlawed discriminatory practices that disenfranchised generations of African American voters, particularly in the deep South. In 2013, however, the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Shelby County v. Holder case weakened key provisions of the law.
That impact, according to African American lawyers working on these issues, is playing out ahead of the coming midterms.
“We are continuing to see voter suppression rear its ugly head in Georgia at both the state and local levels,” said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee in a statement.
“Exact Match” in Georgia
The Lawyers’ Committee and its partners have filed a federal lawsuit against Secretary of State Brian Kemp—a Republican running against Abrams in the gubernatorial race—over Georgia’s “exact match” voter rule. The lawsuit alleges that ‘no match, no vote’ violates the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act, and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
With `no match, no vote,’ voter registration applications are flagged and placed in “pending” status if the information on one’s registration form does not exactly match information contained in the Department of Driver Services or Social Security Administration databases.
A non-match can result from something as simple as removing a hyphen from a name, or changing a voter’s maiden name. The Associated Press reported that more than 53,000 voter registration applications have been placed in “pending” status before the midterm election.
More than “70 percent of the pending applicants are minorities,” said Phyllis Blake, president of the NAACP’s Georgia State Conference, a partner in the lawsuit.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, a spokeswoman for Kemp called the claims “completely bogus,” and insisted voters involved will be able to cast their ballots.
Problems at Prairie View
Another major lawsuit was filed this week by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) in federal court against election officials in Waller County, Texas.
The suit alleges officials have refused to provide any early voting location on the campus of Prairie View A&M University, a historically Black university, during the first week of voting that started on October 22. The suit was brought on behalf of five Prairie View students, all registered voters and residents of Waller County.
“Since at least the early 1970s, Waller County has consistently tried to limit the political power of Black voters in the City of Prairie View and at Prairie View A&M specifically by undermining their right to vote,” said Leah Aden, LDF’s Deputy Director of Litigation.
“In keeping with this troubling pattern, Waller County officials have refused to come close to providing the same number of early-voting opportunities as they have to non-Black and non-student voters before next month’s election.” (County officials could not immediately be reached for comment).
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have railed against what’s happening around the country.
In a recent letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, CBC chairman Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA) said the Department of Justice— the federal agency responsible for civil rights oversight—is failing to protect African Americans’ constitutionally protected 15th Amendment right to vote.
“The current state of election integrity across the nation is in a tenuous position thanks to your intentionally lax approach to enforcement of voting rights laws,” Richmond wrote. “Bad actors in governments in various states have been deliberately compromising fair elections with impunity.”
Ellen Kurz worked on the Obama campaign and is now president of iVote, created in 2014 to help secure voting rights for all Americans. While it’s a little known office, she said, secretaries of state nationwide are the most important officials in determining who votes and who doesn’t. They make key decisions about polling locations, hours of operations and more.
“We’re leading efforts to fight back by electing Democrats and give them training, capacity building and money,” Kurz told theGrio.com, noting the PAC is focused on seven swing states, including Iowa, Arizona, and Nevada.
One nonprofit, nonpartisan group working around voting is VoteRiders. The organization focuses on helping citizens get a photo ID in order to successfully vote.
“Voter ID rules are different in every state, which makes it really confusing,” said Anita Johnson, the organization’s Wisconsin Voter ID Coalition Coordinator. On election day, VoteRiders will be providing their unique free voter ID wallet cards to ensure eligible voters have the documents necessary to vote; they’re also organizing rides to the polls.
“It’s important that African-Americans know the changes to voter ID laws so they can vote in each and every election and [be] part of the democratic process,” said Johnson.
Heading into the midterms, U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Amy Klobuchar, (D-MN), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) have introduced legislation designed to help protect America’s election systems.
The “Election Systems Integrity Act,” would require disclosure of foreign ownership of election service providers. The lawmakers say it is designed to prevent foreign interference, as occurred in the 2016 presidential election. A July Ipsos poll indicated a majority of Americans believe Russia was disruptive to the process.
“There is bipartisan agreement that our elections are under threat from foreign cyberattacks and disinformation efforts. It makes securing the integrity of our elections one of our highest national security priorities,” said Senator Cardin. “While there are many safeguards in place, the American people have a right to know when foreign players have made their way in to the very inner workings of our election system. Transparency and communication between all levels of government will help keep our future elections free and fair.”
Learn more about theGrio’s stance on the midterm elections’ important issues impacting Black America by reading our manifesto and following the #BlackVoterPower hashtag.