How Voter Fraud Claims Justify Voter Suppression After the Election

By Erin Ferns Lee December 9, 2016
Photo: Steven Depolo via Creative Commons
Photo: Steven Depolo via Creative Commons

It’s been one month since Election Day and most people’s newsfeeds and water cooler discussions have been inundated with a dizzying array of stories on voter fraud, recounts, and whatever-else-Trump-will-tweet-next. The fallacious conversation around “illegal voting” has its consequences: voter suppression. And in just the last couple of weeks, we have seen reports of state lawmakers using this false narrative to support or propose new laws or legal actions that would erode the voting rights of eligible citizens.

In Michigan, lawmakers are taking advantage of the lame duck session to push a bill that would make the state’s voter ID law even more prohibitive to voting. The bill’s sponsor claims this last-minute legislative effort is about maintaining the integrity of elections, but Michigan is already falling behind most states in passing policies that help all voters. This sneaky proposal would just make the state’s voting system worse, wrote Project Vote legislative director, Marissa Liebling this week. Unfortunately, the Michigan House has already rushed to approve the bill late Wednesday night. It will go to the Senate next week.

In California, the state Republican Party claimed the state’s online registration system is susceptible to fraud and suggested it would take legal action, according to the Los Angeles Times. Secretary of state and elections chief, Alex Padilla said the “unfounded claims” were “irresponsible” and that he will work to ensure the voting experience is “accessible, fair and honest.” Online registration was partially credited for the state’s record voter registration rate for the second presidential election in a row, due in part to the “convenience of online registration.”

In Oregon, two Republican lawmakers filed a proposed constitutional amendment to require proof-of-citizenship to register to vote, based on “rumors” that voter registration drives targeted noncitizens. This type of law currently faces challenges in court in Arizona and Kansas, as it is known to block otherwise eligible citizens from being registered to vote.

In New Hampshire, governor-elect Chris Sununu said he supported repealing the state’s same day registration (SDR) law to calm fears that votes are being “watered down” by less permanent residents, namely students. But, not everyone is buying this story. Senator-elect Martha Hennessy said Sununu’s concerns are nothing more than a “voter suppression strategy” according to the Boston Globe. In general, same day registration policies are known to increase voter turnout by at least 10 percentage points.

North Carolina’s SDR law is also under attack: A conservative group filed a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s law that allows citizens to register and vote during the early voting period. Why? According to the Daily Beast, the group claims SDR makes it possible for illegal vote “shenanigans.” Further, the group implied that people who use SDR on Election Day are “procrastinators,” who are not quality voters, and therefore should not be given the opportunity to vote.

In Virginia, lawmakers filed a bill to restrict community voter registration drives, which has the potential to hurt voter turnout. Data demonstrates that voter registration drives play a key role in increasing political participation as citizens still rely on community groups to provide voter registration in public spaces.

As the New York Times editorial board puts it, “[t]his is how voter suppression efforts start. First come the unverified tales of fraud; then come the urgent calls to tighten voter registration rules and increase ‘ballot security,’ which translate into laws that disenfranchise tens or hundreds of thousands of qualified voters.”

Instead of building safeguards and protecting eligible Americans’ right to vote, these lawmakers are using the last weeks of 2016 to willfully try to weaken our democracy. Shame.

To keep up with some of these legislative efforts, use Project Vote’s Bill Tracking tool, an interactive index of bills that is curated, analyzed and summarized on a daily basis for the public to access at any time.