All That ‘Rigged’ Talk Overshadows the Very Real and Active Suppression of Black Votes

Forget imaginary voter fraud; the real issue of election integrity is about voter suppression against black and brown people.

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots during early voting for the 2016 presidential general election Oct. 28, 2016, at the Forsyth County Government Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. Early voting has begun in North Carolina and goes through Nov. 5, 2016. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Frantically saving himself from the rat-a-tat of queries from skeptical black journalists at a rushed “off record” session at the GOP headquarters months ago, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus dropped the only mic he could think of to shut up the crowd: “I used to work for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.”

Many in the room reacted with initial surprise at that, a few offering, “It’d help if you talked more about that.” But missed in the pity-me trick was an even larger question: If the head of the Republican Party was so eager to let the black press know about his brief stint as an NAACP LDF intern, how come he’s never said (or done) anything about his party’s all-out systematic bid to suppress black voters at the polls?

And while the RNC’s urban media director, Telly Lovelace, might tell The Root that Republicans “remain focused on getting out the vote,” it’s become a bit obvious in recent years (and in the weeks running up to Nov. 8) that he probably doesn’t mean the black vote.

A string of federal court rulings explicitly struck down voter-ID laws in states like Kansas, North Carolina, North Dakota, Wisconsin and Texas. Yet some of the most flagrant violators called out by those same rulings are moving ahead with that anyway … and much more.

Polling precincts in Texas—where the presidential race appears to tighten—are still asking for IDs, questioning minority voters or altogether turning them away. Voters are calling in to hotlines, like the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law’s 866-VOTE-HOTLINE, complaining of either closed polling locations or several-hours-long early-voting lines as states refuse to commit the resources needed to ensure a smooth, fair and accurate democratic election. In North Carolina, a toss-up battleground state, widespread cancellation of voter registrations in black-heavy counties forced the state’s NAACP to sue the state.

“The Tar Heel State is ground zero in the intentional, surgical efforts by Republicans to suppress the voice of voters,” said the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP. “We’re taking this emergency step to make sure not a single voter’s voice is unlawfully taken away.”

In open-carry Virginia, election officials prepare for armed Donald Trump “poll watchers” in what seems like a Jim Crow throwback. Polling precincts are being set up at local law-enforcement stations with armed police present in Georgia. Gun-carrying, largely white “patriot” groups such as Oath Keepers have announced that they will conduct operations to prevent “voter fraud” in mostly minority communities.

In Florida, major cities like Fort Myers lack early-voting locations, while Ohio won’t let anyone register and vote on the same early-voting day, and the secretary of state dumped absentee ballots and purged 1 million voters; there are also claims from black voters in Cleveland of unidentified individuals walking through cities with fake illegal ballots and encouraging unsuspecting residents to vote on the spot.

In Indiana, land of Trump running mate Gov. Mike Pence, leaving nothing to chance, state police raided the Indiana Voter Registration Project offices and threatened the electoral participation of 45,000 black voters.

Meanwhile, ancient, unreliable voting machines in Georgia and Texas have been discovered flipping votes, including cases where (thankfully) double-checking voters discovered that their vote was miscounted if an aging machine was on the wrong angle. The Georgia NAACP is urging state officials to post notices on machines, warning voters of the glitch.

In most, if not all, forecasts claiming to meticulously track the outcome of Election 2016—whether it’s metadata rock star Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight or neuroscientist Sam Wang’s Princeton Election Consortium—none are paying any close attention to the impact the very real and presently active elimination of black and brown votes will have once the ballots are counted.

These are happening in states where Republican-controlled legislatures are thwarting voters of color—who vote overwhelmingly Democrat—instead of simply doing it the old-fashioned way: competing for them.

The mainstream conversation on that seems almost nonexistent despite all the antics described above, with little home page copy devoted to real concerns voting-rights advocates are having about sabotage at the polls.

“We are on the precipice of the most chaotic election for people of color in 50 years,” Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, warned during a recent conference call with reporters. “In fact, this is the first election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act.”

You’d think that would be a big deal. Many of the states that historically required serious preclearance oversight of their shady election habits by the Justice Department are now battlegrounds that could swing the presidential race, and everything down ballot, one way or the other. They are places packed with black and Latino voters who could be crucial in deciding whether the nation picks its first woman as president—or whether it jumps headfirst into the uncertain abyss of picking a man with an open dictatorial streak, along with a legislative and judicial branch that empowers him. How convenient.

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