There is a common tool used by every sophisticated thief, magician and con man.
A bank robber might pull a fire alarm across town or call in a fake robbery as “smoke” for a heist, while flim-flam artists use a variety of misdirection gimmicks called “bells.” Some of the most elaborate magic tricks depend on a “lookaway”—when a skilled magician employs a loud sound, a hand movement or the slightest movement of their eyes to distract the audience for a fraction of a second.
Regardless of what they are called, these tactics all serve the same function. They subconsciously divert your attention from the thing to which your attention is supposed to be focused. And the best bandits, bamboozlers and bullshitters can convince you that you never averted your gaze. They will make you believe that you have been paying attention all along. You won’t even suspect that you’ve been robbed...
Until you notice your pockets are empty.
Donald Trump does not know magic. He is not a skilled con man nor is he a sophisticated thief.
He is a tool.
His irascible antics are the perfect smokescreen for the GOP’s goal of filling federal court benches with right-wing zealots, lowering taxes on billionaires, dismantling affirmative action, cutting social programs, rolling back environmental regulations, reducing immigration, and boosting the medicinal disinfectant industry. International oligarchs used his penchant for blustery third-rate hucksterism as cover to infiltrate the American economy. Investors used his name to promote their financial interests.
But ever since the Mueller Report exposed his presidential campaign as smoke for Vladimir Putin’s election interference and discord sowing, Trump’s conservative co-conspirators have wondered how they were going to steal the 2020 election. Their farce of an election fraud committee—led by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, dubbed “the most racist politician in America”—imploded. The 2018 midterm voter suppression scheme largely backfired.
Then, along came coronavirus.
With the 2020 elections less than 200 days away, Republicans are using the COVID-19 crisis as the perfect opportunity to continue their time-honored long con of making black votes disappear.
Let’s be clear, widespread voter fraud is a myth.
“Voter fraud is not a significant problem in the country,” said Jennifer Clark of the Brennan Center in an August 2016 interview, adding: “Basically every analysis that has ever been done has concluded: It is not a significant concern.”
When Richard Hasen, a law professor and author of the 2012 book The Voting Wars, looked at 30 years of data in search of voter fraud changing the outcome of an election, he couldn’t find a single instance, according to the New Yorker. A 2014 Harvard study put the likely percentage of non-citizens voting at “zero.” Another (serious) 2014 nationwide study equated in-person voter fraud with the likelihood of someone being abducted by aliens. The Washington Post found just 4 cases in the most recent election, out of the millions of votes cast. A study of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases in 50 states revealed that “while some fraud had occurred since 2000, the rate was infinitesimal compared with the 146 million registered voters in that 12-year span.”
Yet Trump and his fellow Republicans are now using the coronavirus pandemic to perpetuate the perception that there are secret cabals of felons, undocumented immigrants and invisible liberal election fraudsters who are going to the polls to cast ballots for Democrats. And they are doing it by making it harder to vote during a time when many are already worried about catching a deadly disease that disproportionately affects nonwhites.
This is voter suppression.
No magician in America steals the black votes with more unapologetic precision than Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Long before he became known for his campaign to turn Georgia into a post-apocalyptic, Confederate flag-waving bastion of whiteness, the Georgia Republican was known as the “Wizard of Voter Suppression.” After purging black ballot casters and making millions more disappear in the 2018 midterms, Kemp successfully stifled an effort to acquire voting systems that required hand-marked paper ballots—the most secure kind of voting system, according to experts.
As of April 27, eight Georgia counties ranked among the 50 most coronavirus-infected counties in America. So what did Kemp decide to do with that information? He became the first governor to rescind his state’s stay at home orders all so he can get out and suppress more black votes.
He refuses to delay the state’s May 19 primary and, even though Georgia’s blackest precincts routinely have long lines and crowded polls, Kemp and his cronies are currently fighting a lawsuit that will force the state to pay for postage on mail-in ballots.
“Georgia remains a state with voter suppression built into its DNA, said Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The State House leader has launched a Task Force to look at absentee vote fraud to intimidate the public.”
Former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker gave Kemp a run for his money. Before leaving office to join the GOP fight for racially-motivated gerrymandering, Walker purged 200,000 voters and appointed conservative judge Daniel Kelly to the Supreme Court. Luckily, Kelly recused himself from the voter purge case because it could affect his 2019 reelection bid but voted against extending the state’s mail-in ballot deadline, which voters asked for because they were practicing social distancing in voting lines.
In that 2019 election, with Kelly on the ballot, voters in Milwaukee, the state’s most populous (and blackest) city, waited in long lines after the Supreme Court forced them to choose between their health and voting in person.
They voted Daniel Kelly out.
“Milwaukee voters braved long lines that stretched for blocks to ensure that their vote would be heard. 180 polling sites that ordinarily serve the public were reduced to five,” Clarke told The Root. “The Court’s interjection into the Wisconsin election fiasco suggests that we will be seeing the Court weighing in during other state-level election battles that play out in 2020.”
Kelly was replaced by a Democrat. So what did Kelly do during his final lame-duck session on the Wisconsin Supreme Court?
He lifted his recusal in the voter purge case. Now, 200,000 Wisconsin voters could have their registrations tossed by someone who was already voted out of office.
Voilá! It’s magic.
In Texas, you are only allowed to vote via mail-in ballot if:
- You’re 65 years or older;
- out of the county on election day and during the period for early voting by personal appearance; or
- confined in jail, but otherwise eligible.
Texas voters had to file a lawsuit because Republican Gov. Gregg Abbott and the Secretary of State both oppose vote by mail. A judge finally gave access to mail-in ballots to voters who are concerned about the coronavirus two days after the Secretary of State tweeted this:
“It’s clear that some officials are doubling down on voter suppression efforts at a time when we would be expecting officials to lift the unnecessary burdens that voters ordinarily face,” said Clarke, who represents disenfranchised voters around the country.
The same pattern is repeating itself in North Carolina, Florida, Arizona and other red states where Republicans are trying their damndest to institute rules that disproportionately affect non-white communities.
But why do Republicans fear voters, especially black voters, so much?
Black voters vote for Democrats.
According to Pew Research, 96 percent of black voters voted for Clinton in the 2016 presidential election while 54 percent of white voters cast a ballot for Trump. And while younger and more educated whites tend to vote Democrat, it’s hard to target voters by age or education.
Unless they’re black.
Black voters are targeted by zip code, party affiliation, and even by criminal history. So if you put fewer voting machines in black precincts, it takes longer for black people to vote. If you fight felon voting rights, you eliminate a large swath of black voters. If you put faulty machines at the polls where black people vote, their votes won’t be counted. If you require voter ID, you make it harder for even more black people to register. Reducing voting hours, cutting early voting, using vote-matching software and changing registration rules are all techniques that disproportionately suppress the black vote.
And Republicans have admitted that Republicans lose when more people vote. Mitch McConnell said as much when he opposed making election day a holiday for federal employees. When Democrats included provisions to make voting easier in the upcoming elections, Trump told the con artist crew at Fox & Friends that the bill would ensure “levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”
“There are a lot of Republicans out there pushing that idea that vote-by-mail is about fraud,” Sen. Kamala Harris told the Root. “They say they love democracy but do everything in their power to prevent certain groups from voting.”
Perhaps Brian Kemp explains it best:
So, instead, they use tricks.
Again, on Wednesday, a federal appeals court struck down a Kansas law that required voters to provide documentary proof of citizenship (such as a birth certificate or passport) to register to vote and blocked more than 30,000 Kansans from registering to vote.
“This law disenfranchised tens of thousands of Kansans, denying them the most fundamental right in our democracy,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, in a statement to The Root.
And guess who wrote that law?
To counter this coronavirus-inspired distraction, Sen. Kamala Harris introduced the VoteSafe Act of 2020, legislation to ensure safety and protect voting rights, not just during the pandemic, but for the future. She is also pushing for new and innovative ways to make voting more accessible.
“Curbside voting, Absentee voting, early voting, same-day registration—we need it all,” said Harris in an interview with The Root. “I believe that we need to get to a place where election day is a federal holiday. We need to use technology to help people determine when the lines at the polls are shorter.”
“States should work to ensure that there are as many avenues as possible open to voters,” said voting rights defender Kristen Clarke. “Voters should be allowed to request absentee ballots by phone, email, mail or in-person. Absentee ballots should come with a postage-paid, pre-addressed envelope. We need expanded early voting opportunities to give people the opportunity to vote in person prior to Election Day. And should have some in-person voting opportunities on Election Day itself to make sure that no voter is left behind.”
Donald Trump doesn’t have enough discretion to be a magician. He would blurt out the secret to the trick in the same way he reveals top secret information to Russian diplomats. He’s not cunning enough to be a thief, nor is he smart enough to be a con man.
Republicans are using the dotard president and coronavirus in the same way — as a distraction in their blast vote heist. Like Trump, the coronavirus is simply a tool Republicans are using to target black people and infect America. It’s a spectacular piece of abracadabra and one helluva hoodwink.
And sometimes, you won’t even realize it...
Until you notice the country is sick.