How Obama’s election prompted a desperate power grab
A few days ago, I happened to watch the new documentary called Rigged – The Voter Suppression Playbook, which you can now catch on Amazon Prime. It deals with how the Republican Party began a systematic voter suppression and gerrymandering extravaganza not long after an incident that occurred in 2008.
Af first I wasn’t sure what event they were talking about. Let’s see, what event transpired in 2008 that would have inspired such actions?
Oh yeah! The black guy won.
Now it makes sense. It must have been as if one of the Tsunami Warning sirens, which are sometimes tested out here in the Pacific Northwest, blasted so loud to every member of the Republican hierarchy, that it became an ‘all hands on deck’ response. Or, maybe it was like the loud signal we sometimes hear on the local newscast when a tornado or hurricane is imminent. Whatever the case, Barack Obama’s victory as the first African-American to ever hold the office of President, sent shock waves throughout the right-wing world.
In fact, on the day of his inauguration, several current and former members of the Republican leadership met at a Washington D.C. area restaurant to plot how they were going to stop the first black President from galvanizing the emerging demographic voting bloc dead in its tracks. Immediately, they determined that they would do everything in their power to prevent him from achieving even a modicum of success legislatively. And over the next eight years, they did a pretty good job of doing just that.
But that wasn’t all that was happening. Not only would Republicans have to stop the popular and charismatic President at all turns, something else even more drastic was needed. The perceived end of a white-dominated power structure spurred the Republican Party into an unbelievable array of measures and actions that would ensure their hold on power, and the Democrats were caught napping through the whole thing.
The voter suppression playbook, as highlighted in the documentary, goes through a series of actions the Republican Party took over a number of years that would solidify and strengthen their ability to seize and hold on to power for years to come, beginning seconds it would seem, after President Obama removed his hand from the bible and swore his oath to the Constitution of the United States.
Project Red Map
For the first time in memory, the Republican Party leadership decided to spend millions of dollars trying to change 20 state legislative bodies from blue to red in the 2010 election. They had willing participants in this endeavor, as the Koch Brothers and other wealthy donors stepped up to the plate.
The scheme worked even better than they could have imagined. Not only were 700 seats changed, but two of the most sought after swing states, Wisconsin and North Carolina, were flipped to the red column.
So why all of the fuss over winning back state legislatures in 2010? With the coming Census that year, Republicans had the foresight to realize that by controlling as many legislative bodies as possible, they would be able to control the redistricting process in 2011, laying the groundwork for some of the most surgical gerrymandering in history.
While Democrats and Republicans exploited this process in the past, never before have we seen it done as blatantly as the Republicans in 2011. By using methods known as “packing” and “cracking,” they were able to draw surgically precise districts, maximizing partisan advantage.
“Packing” refers to putting as many African-Americans and Hispanics into as few districts as possible. “Cracking” refers to taking people of color and “cracking” them into as many areas as possible to such a degree that their votes would not make a difference. Thus, in 2012, statehouse candidates in Pennsylvania won over 51% of the vote, but only won 28% of the seats. That same scenario would play out in many states over the next several election cycles.
Voter Restriction Laws
The reality is that about 90% of the people in America have a drivers license or passport. Unfortunately, the other 10% do not, and it’s the people in this group who the Republicans have systematically targeted. By placing hurdles such as requiring birth certificates and photo ID’s, many people of color, older people, and young people in college may have to travel long distances to their local DMV’s or purchase certificates of birth to become registered to vote. Many election experts have likened these voter restriction laws to a back-handed poll tax on voters, which were banned decades ago.
Gutting The Voting Rights Act
When The Supreme Court struck down the pre-clearance portion of the Voting Rights Act, the ink was barely dry when several mostly southern states enacted strict voter suppression laws like cutting down early voting days, getting rid of same-day registration, and eliminating polling locations.
The pre-clearance portion of the Act forced mostly Southern states to ask for permission before they wanted to make any changes to voting requirements, due to their history of discrimination against primarily African-Americans. By gutting this portion, The Supreme Court opened the door to these states to begin suppression techniques again.
Over and over again, we’ve seen that voter fraud is not an issue in the United States. One study showed that between 2002 and 2005, only 40 people out of 197 million allegedly committed fraud in federal elections—a rate of 0.0002%.
However, the Republican Party continues to leverage this falsehood over and over. Launching initiatives such as “The Voter Integrity Project,” which demagogues the issue of massive voter fraud, has the intended result of scaring voters and prompting ballot measures that mandate stricter ID requirements. And none other than the current President of the United States is perhaps the most vocal proponent of the massive voter fraud narrative.
Voter Roll Purges
We’ve heard of this going on in many states in recent years, Georgia the most notorious in 2018. The usual process revolves around scouring the voting registration rolls for inactive voters and then sending them a notice in the mail to verify they are who they say they are. In many cases, the warning will demand that they show up in person to prove it.
Of course, many do not show up, nor do they receive the notice at all. The result is a removal from the voting roll, and on election day, their names will not show up on the registration list. Federal law mandates a provisional ballot option in these situations, but again, the person must usually go to the local election board after the election to prove their identity. Once again, more hurdles.
Voter intimidation can take many forms. In many states, we see billboards stating that by engaging in voter fraud, you will be subjecting yourself to jail time. And in some cases, citizens have been known to stake out voting locations to “challenge” people standing in line as to whether they have a legal right to vote. The aim here is to make voting a dangerous proposition. If it keeps a few people from showing up, mission accomplished.
Once again, the idea here is to target the emerging demographic voting population. While most people do have driver’s licenses, a sizable minority does not, thus throwing more hoops into the process. It used to be that a college photo ID was sufficient to prove your identity. Many states no longer allow this kind of ID, compelling either a trip to the DMV or filling out forms issued by the state. Many college students, African-Americans, and Hispanics use public transportation and do not have driver’s licenses, thus disenfranchising many prospective voters.
Voter Integrity Commission
Following along the same lines as the “Voter Integrity Project,” this was an attempt by President Trump to “get to the bottom” of the “massive” voter fraud being committed in the United States. Started in 2017, led by Vice-President Pence and long-time voter fraud demagogue Kris Kobach, the commission was in and of itself, a fraud. Trump disbanded the commission in 2018, unable to gain any traction whatsoever. Trump, of course, blamed the states for not cooperating. But the commission was doomed from the start. Integrity was not present.
Change The Courts
Finally, with the election of Trump and a Republican-controlled Senate, this endeavor could now be realized. Trump has now confirmed more federal court judges than any of his predecessors had done in the same period of their presidencies. Most of the judges are straight out of the Federalist Society, a right-wing think tank known for recommending extremist ideological candidates. By the end of his first term, if the same rate of confirmations remains intact, Trump is on track to confirm nearly 30% of all federal judges.
The result most certainly cannot bode well for voting rights in America. We’ve already seen what the Supreme Court has done to the Voting Rights Act. Indeed, most of these new judges come from the same cloth. In other words, the Democratic Party could be at a disadvantage for years to come as it pertains to obtaining and keeping power. The Republicans have out-foxed, out-maneuvered, and out-worked the Democrats when it comes to this issue.
Since 2016, more than 30 states have introduced bills to restrict voter registration and voting. And with the recent Supreme Court decision to not address partisan gerrymandering, it gets even more challenging moving forward.
But, as we saw in 2018 with the blue wave in the House of Representatives, Democrats can overcome these hoops and hurdles. And in another bit of good news, Utah, Michigan, Missouri, and Colorado, all passed ballot initiatives to stop partisan gerrymandering by establishing independent redistricting commissions, which brings the total to 21 states who now have at least some form of non-partisan or bi-partisan commission for redistricting.
So, there’s hope at least. But what we have to keep in mind in our two-party system of government, is the fact that one party is fighting to make it easier to vote; the other party is doing the exact opposite. We need to accentuate this fact over and over.
In the documentary, long-time Republican strategist Mark Mckinnon shared his thoughts on what happened after the election of Barack Obama. A moderate, Mckinnon revealed how he advised many Republicans that the best way forward for the party was to change in such a way that they could attract some of the emerging demographic voters such as Hispanics and African-Americans. In other words, a kinder and gentler Republican Party.
As he said, they didn’t listen.