Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s effort to recount the vote in states Donald Trump closely won continued this weekend after a brief stutter step when Stein said that she ended, but then resumed, her efforts to push a recount in Pennsylvania. Stein’s actions have been called many things—the current president-elect calls them “a scam”—but are they also obfuscation of the real issue?
"We certainly didn't make it easier for anyone to vote. We need to open up the political process and let everybody come in," Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) told The Root in response to the question of whether the election was stolen by suppression.
Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), who represents Selma, Ala., also spoke to The Root. "If one person was turned away because of voter ID, it threatens the whole integrity of the process," Sewell responded.
According to many experts who watch elections, the real controversy of 2016 is not the recount but the hundreds of thousands of votes that were never cast in the first place because of widespread voter suppression.
Highlighting this issue, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Common Cause and State Voices held a two-day conference the first two days of December titled, "2016 Election Protection Post-Election Convening." The Lawyers Committee also released a report titled, "Striving to #ProtectOurVote in 2016: A Snapshot of Election Protection 2016."
"Did voter suppression have an impact? Absolutely, voter suppression had an impact," said writer Ari Berman, who is the author of Give Us the Ballot. Berman spoke at the over-crowded conference.
"Look at Wisconsin. Trump won Wisconsin by 22,000 votes, but 300,000 registered voters didn't have strict forms of voter ID. Clearly it had an impact. But even if voter suppression had no impact on the election, the fact that one party made it deliberately harder to vote was a huge national scandal," said Berman.
Within the pages of the Lawyers Committee's 30-page report on voting were details of the impact of new voter-ID laws and the gutting of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The 2016 election was the first in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The election turned out exactly the way one would imagine it would: with numerous examples of local officials either misrepresenting the law or making it more difficult to cast a ballot.
Lawyers Committee President Kristen Clarke wrote this week that "officials across Texas in Denton, Tarrant, Grimes, Harris, Medina and Montgomery counties continued to seek photo ID from voters despite an en banc ruling from the 5th Circuit that found that the state’s photo-ID law had a discriminatory effect on the state’s black and Latino voters.
"In Wisconsin, a strict photo-ID law, the subject of long and protracted litigation, resulted in depressed voter-turnout rates across the state. The impact was starkest in Milwaukee where voter-turnout rates dropped by 51,000 between 2012 and 2016," she continued.
In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder rendered Section 5 of the act inoperable. The stricken provision required states with histories of voting discrimination to seek federal approval for any voting changes before implementation. But Chief Justice John Roberts fantastically declared "racism over" in the decision.
A month after the Shelby decision, North Carolina passed the first voter-suppression law, targeting black voters. This year, on July 29, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals struck North Carolina’s “monster law,” mentioning its “racially discriminatory intent.” The law eliminated same-day registration, reduced early voting and targeted the voting patterns of African-American voters.
The strictest voter-ID laws put in place after the U.S. Supreme Court's excision and before the 2016 election were signed into law by Republican governors. Those states included Florida (Gov. Rick Scott), Wisconsin (Gov. Scott Walker) and North Carolina (Gov. Pat McCrory).
"I think what happened in this election [was] voter suppression and manipulation of the voter rolls. I think we saw, basically, a stolen election,” said Ben Ptashnik, executive director of the National Election Defense Coalition, before a large audience packed into a committee room on Capitol Hill on Nov. 16.
No one gasped with surprise at Ptashnik's words, which says a lot about how blocking people from voting has now become ordinary political practice.
Many continue to say there's "nothing to see here" when it comes to efforts at voter suppression. But there has been plenty to witness since the voting decision that followed the election of the nation's first African-American president.