The threat Donald Trump poses to democracy, in one tweet
I apologize for the clickbait headline, but in this case I think it fits. President-Elect Donald Trump just tweeted this:
We've known about Trump's authoritarian tendencies for a long time. Back in January, before a single vote had been cast in the GOP primary, we already had him on record praising Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un, not in spite of their authoritarianism, but because of it. And this was part of a long-running pattern for Trump—way back in the 90s he praised the Tiananmen Square Massacre. Then, in February, he suggested that as president he'd want to change US libel laws so it would be easier for him to sue his critics.
What the above tweet does, though, is give one of the first signals since the election of how Trump might actually go about undermining American democracy. Baseless claims about voter fraud are not new for Trump—during the general election he repeatedly warned his followers about the election being stolen—but after Trump won, it was possible to hope he might forget about the whole thing. No such luck.
This is dangerous because in recent years, there's been a trend of Republican state governments using bogus claims about widespread voter fraud to justify voter ID laws that make it hard for Democratic-leaning groups to vote—namely minorities, young people, and the poor. As ProPublica explains:
There have been only a small number of fraud cases resulting in a conviction. A New York Times analysis from 2007 identified 120 cases filed by the Justice Department over five years. These cases, many of which stemmed from mistakenly filled registration forms or misunderstanding over voter eligibility, resulted in 86 convictions.
There are “very few documented cases,” said UC-Irvine professor and election law specialist Rick Hasen. “When you do see election fraud, it invariably involves election officials taking steps to change election results or it involves absentee ballots which voter ID laws can’t prevent,” he said.
An analysis by News21, a national investigative reporting project, identified 10 voter impersonation cases out of 2,068 alleged election fraud cases since 2000 — or one out of every 15 million prospective voters.
Republicans have not exactly done a good job of hiding why they're so eager to pass laws aimed at a problem that barely exists. ProPublica quotes Pennslyvannia House majority leader Mike Turzai saying, in 2012, that the state's voter ID law "is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done." Similarly, Don Yelton, a North Carolina GOP official interviewed by the Daily Show in 2013, said his state's voter ID law "is gonna kick the Democrats in the butt". Yelton admitted in-person voter fraud is rare, but said the law would hurt the Democrats because Democratic voters are "lazy". Later, when North Carolina was sued over its voter ID law, it was revealed that:
“[P]rior to enactment” of the law, the Fourth Circuit explained, “the legislature requested and received racial data as to usage of the practices changed by the proposed law.” Released from the obligation to clear their law with the Justice department and “with race data in hand, the legislature amended the bill to exclude many of the alternative photo IDs used by African Americans.” Photo IDs used more often by black voters, including public assistance IDs, were removed from the list of acceptable identification, while IDs issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles—which blacks are less likely to have—were retained. Cutting the first week of early voting came in reaction to data showing that the first seven days were used by large numbers of black voters, nixing one Sunday on which churches would bus “souls-to-the-polls”.
Trump tweet suggests that we may soon see him throw the weight of the presidency behind these bogus "anti voter fraud" efforts. Obama's Justice Department went to court to defend voting rights (not always successfully, unfortunately). Trump's Justice Department could just as easily use bogus voter fraud prosecutions to intimidate opponents. In fact, that's exactly what Trump's Attorney General nominee, Jeff Sessions, tried to do in the 80s. As one of Sessions' former colleagues describes the case:
He falsely charged three African American civil rights activists in Alabama, including a longtime adviser to Martin Luther King Jr., with 29 counts of mail fraud, altering absentee ballots and attempting to vote multiple times. The evidence showed that these activists were simply helping elderly African American voters complete mail-in ballots. All were acquitted of every charge.
But this outcome is not inevitable. Nominees like Sessions will need to be confirmed by the US Senate. So tell Congress today that you oppose Jeff Sessions' nomination for Attorney General. America needs your voice.