I Voted sticker
Credit: Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr

Voting rights were in the news this week. To recap, there were three big stories.

First of all, the Supreme Court issued what we might regard as a “non-ruling” on the challenge to North Carolina’s voting restrictions. Because Republicans have obstructed President Obama’s nominee to fill the open seat, the vote on this one was 4/4 – which left the federal trial court’s ban on implementation of the restrictions in place. It is important to note what led to that decision.

The court of appeals rejected the state’s explanation that the law was intended to combat voter fraud and “promote public confidence in the election system.” Rather, the court of appeals concluded, the law “hinges explicitly on race—specifically its concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to” voting.

Given that the Supreme Court appears to be deadlocked on this one until another justice is confirmed, Ian Millhiser notes that your constitutional voting rights are now dependent on the make-up of the federal appeals court that has jurisdiction in your region of the country.

Secondly, we once again learned that voter fraud/impersonation is actually NOT an problem.

A News21 analysis four years ago of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases in 50 states found that while some fraud had occurred since 2000, the rate was infinitesimal compared with the 146 million registered voters in that 12-year span. The analysis found only 10 cases of voter impersonation, the only kind of fraud that could be prevented by voter ID at the polls.

This year, News21 reviewed cases in Arizona, Ohio, Georgia, Texas and Kansas, where politicians have expressed concern about voter fraud and found hundreds of allegations but few prosecutions between 2012 and 2016. Attorneys general in those states successfully prosecuted 38 cases of vote fraud, though other cases may have been litigated at the county level. At least one-third of those cases involved nonvoters, such as elections officials or volunteers. None of the cases prosecuted was for voter impersonation.

The third story points to what actually might be the problem with our voting systems.

The FBI has uncovered evidence that foreign hackers penetrated two state election databases in recent weeks, prompting the bureau to warn election officials across the country to take new steps to enhance the security of their computer systems, according to federal and state law enforcement officials.

The FBI warning, contained in a “flash” alert from the FBI’s Cyber Division, a copy of which was obtained by Yahoo News, comes amid heightened concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about the possibility of cyberintrusions, potentially by Russian state-sponsored hackers, aimed at disrupting the November elections.

Those concerns prompted Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to convene a conference call with state election officials on Aug. 15, in which he offered his department’s help to make state voting systems more secure, including providing federal cybersecurity experts to scan for vulnerabilities, according to a “readout” of the call released by the department.

That move by Secretary Jeh Johnson lit up the tin foil hats of the right wing conspiracy theorists.

Jeh Johnson stated, “We should carefully consider whether our election system, our election process, is critical infrastructure like the financial sector, like the power grid.”

This is a very scary thought patriots.

For years, our federal government has said there is absolutely nothing wrong at all, now it is sending the Department of Homeland Security in to the election process.

Conveniently, this declaration is made as Trump gains ground on Hillary and her easy win is in serious doubt.

Is that coincidence or is this a concentrated effort by the Obama administration to insert itself into the presidential election to ensure Hillary wins?…

More concerning is this is flat out unconstitutional! Elections are clearly the responsibility of state and local government, NOT the federal government.

Yeah, that’s nonsense – and would actually be humorous if it weren’t so dangerous. But that last statement is mostly true. The constitution did leave it to states to determine voting eligibility and the administration of elections. It is only through constitutional amendments that women and decedents of slaves were ensured the right to vote. Then there was this chilling moment:

But to this day, as the Court reminded us in 2000 in Bush v. Gore, there is no right to vote for president and state legislatures could decide to make the direct selection of electors instead of letting voters do that.

It is that “strict constitutionalist” interpretation that Zachary Roth points to in his book “The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy,” as the undergirding of conservative arguments being made today on voting rights. For example:

Hamilton said the system should allow the ‘rich and the well born’ to maintain their supremacy, since they would oppose radical change pushed by ‘the many.’ The goal, he said, was to ‘check the imprudence of democracy.

Check that against the federal appeals court determination that North Carolina’s voting restrictions hinged on their “concern that African Americans, who had overwhelmingly voted for Democrats, had too much access to voting.”

Just as “states rights” were used as the dog whistle in the 1960’s as cover to protect Jim Crow laws that stripped African Americans of their constitution rights, the same argument is now being used to cover an attempt to strip them of their voting rights. This time, they’re also attempting to catch other people of color, students and the elderly in that net. But it’s pretty much the same play. Perhaps it’s time to start talking about a national right to vote and federal guarantees for that process.

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