Tuesday in Mooseville – Voting Rights Potpourri 10/30/18

Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act of 1965. (Anyone who has the time and inclination to identify those pictured wins my undying gratitude.)
I was going to do this post next week, but since so many people have already voted, I decided not to wait. Consider this your motivation for the day, with a few persuasion points, as you talk to neighbors, friends, and even strangers, and encourage them to vote.

Know the facts: Voter (impersonation) fraud is a myth; election fraud is not.
According to the Brennan Center, “The verdict is in from every corner that voter fraud is sufficiently rare that it simply could not and does not happen at the rate even approaching that which would be required to “rig” an election.” (Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth) I know it, you know it, and everyone who doesn’t get their “news” from Fox should know it. As the Brennan Center points out in the above-linked article, studies, courts, and government investigations have all reached the same conclusion that impersonation fraud by voters is nearly non-existent. If facts, especially facts from the Brennan Center (which does receive some funding from gasp George Soros), aren’t persuasive, there is logic:

In Wisconsin, where a single improper vote can bring a $10,000 fine and three years in prison, a federal judge tartly noted that “a person would have to be insane to commit voter impersonation fraud.” As for the fear that noncitizens and undocumented immigrants are voting in droves, that too poses a logical problem; few individuals would trek from home, find their way across the border, evade capture, then march into a government office and declare their name and address. (What’s Behind the Voter Fraud Witch Hunt?)

Election fraud, defined as “misconduct organized by party officials or other political operatives designed to sway results” (What’s Behind the Voter Fraud Witch Hunt?), is unfortunately less rare. Purges and name-matching seem to be the most prevalent forms of election fraud in use today, even by officials who are supposed to be elected officials first, party officials second (I’m looking at you, Brian Kemp), but election fraud is not a new phenomenon:

In the 19th Century they might have stuffed a ballot box; in the 20th Century there might have been an attempt to manipulate absentee ballots (for example, by filling them out for patients at a nursing home). Purportedly independent political committees with names that obscure funding sources also pose the risk of illegality. (What’s Behind the Voter Fraud Witch Hunt?)

The voter fraud myth has racist, classist, and xenophobic roots.
Just like election fraud isn’t altogether new, neither are cries of “voter fraud.” During the founders’ era, there were fears that the poor would sell their votes:

Many of the founders believed that, generally speaking, the mass of citizens are corruptible and easily swayed. This makes them susceptible to charismatic leaders, or even chaotic mob rule. Poor people, they reasoned, could also be bought off. The people are vulnerable. So if you let the people decide what to do, it won’t be long before they either hand the reins of government over to some charming rapscallion who will quickly establish himself as a brutal despot, or the whole thing will simply devolve into anarchy and bloodshed. (The Founding Fathers Did Not Want You To Vote)

During the Gilded Age, the new Other became immigrants, particularly immigrants who weren’t Protestants. In a 1993 journal article entitled A Symbiotic Relationship: Vote Fraud and Electoral Reform in the Gilded Age, the author John F. Reynolds studied one election in Jersey City, NJ in 1889. Accusations of fraud, both voter and electoral, were investigated by a state senate committee. Reynolds notes,

Still, social tensions-primarily rampant nativism-influenced the proceedings. The city’s “best citizens” attempted to use the investigation to discredit and eventually overthrow a newly emergent Irish regime. (In this effort they were unsuccessful; Sheriff Davis and his cohort remained in control of the city until his death in I911.) The middle- and upper-class biases of the anti-ring forces made it all the easier for them to believe the worst about election officials. Newspaper references to the defendants associated them with the much-feared “dangerous class.” “We have seen the leering, sodden faces of wretches garnered out of the foul places of a great city to assume the sacred trust of conducting an election by the people,” the senate judiciary committee report sneered. “Voting is so conducted that it is disagreeable for respectable people to vote. … [T]he citizen was compelled to intrust his ballot to the dirty fingers of some notorious and brutal ruffian, whose very presence in that position was equivalent to a declaration of fraudulent design. (Reynolds, John F. “A Symbiotic Relationship: Vote Fraud and Electoral Reform in the Gilded Age.” Social Science History, vol. 17, no. 2, 1993, pp. 227–251. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1171281.)

Using claims of voter fraud for racist intent has a long history, but it’s easy to forget the more recent events. In August 1980, shortly after Reagan’s nomination, a Religious Roundtable’s National Affairs Briefing was held in Dallas. Reagan spoke, but almost unnoticed today is this declaration by Paul Weyrich:

Far less attention was paid to what New Right organizer Paul Weyrich had said to warm up the crowd. “How many of our Christians have what I call the ‘goo goo’ syndrome — good government,” he mocked. “They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Weyrich was a prolific founder of organizations and built an infrastructure of groups that lasted decades. One was the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a business-backed outfit that drafted proposals to be introduced by conservative state legislators. …In 2009 ALEC drafted model voter identification bills, which were introduced in statehouses across the country. Weyrich also cofounded the Heritage Foundation, an activist conservative think tank that would become a potent popularizer of the specter of voter impersonation. [bolding mine] (What’s Behind the Voter Fraud Witch Hunt?)

The gutting of Section 5 of the VRA was not John Roberts’ first attempt to undermine the VRA.
In 1981, John Roberts was a special assistant to Attorney General William French Smith. His role within the Justice Department, and fresh off a clerkship with William Rehnquist, was principally focused on civil rights policy and voting rights in particular. For Roberts, the timing was perfect, as the VRA was set to expire in 1982. A recent Supreme Court decision, Mobile v Bolden had defanged a portion of Section 2 of the VRA by declaring that “disproportionate effects alone — i.e. absent purposeful discrimination — are insufficient to establish a claim of racial discrimination affecting voting.” (Mobile v Bolden) The House-passed version of the VRA renewal reversed this decision:

In 1982, key parts of the VRA were set to expire. The House, which was still controlled by Democrats, held extensive hearings—including field hearings in Alabama and Texas—and voted 389-24 to extend the VRA for 10 years and reverse the Mobile decision by requiring plaintiffs to prove only the effects of voting discrimination under Section 2, not the intent. (Inside John Roberts’ Decades-Long Crusade Against the Voting Rights Act)

Note: It’s uncommon for me to link to a Politico article, but this one is well worth reading in its entirety.

The Reagan Administration set Roberts to work on undoing the House’s reversal of the Mobile decision and ensuring the Senate version aligned with their priorities as stated by a Heritage Foundation recommendation in a 1981 memo that said, “No ‘pattern of discrimination case’ may be filed unless there is clear proof of an intent to discriminate…” (Inside John Roberts’ Decades-Long Crusade Against the Voting Rights Act) Roberts took on the task with energy.

Roberts wrote upwards of 25 memos opposing an effects test for Section 2; drafted talking points, speeches and op-eds for Smith and Reynolds; prepared administration officials for their testimony before the Senate; attended weekly strategy sessions; and worked closely with like-minded senators on Capitol Hill. He had a remarkable level of clout among the top officials in the Justice Department for a 26-year-old special assistant. (Inside John Roberts’ Decades-Long Crusade Against the Voting Rights Act)

It appeared that Roberts and the Reagan administration were on their way to victory (retaining the SCOTUS reading of Section 2 of the VRA), “when the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution passed a 10-year extension of the VRA that preserved the Supreme Court’s intent test for Section 2.” (Inside John Roberts’ Decades-Long Crusade Against the Voting Rights Act) It seemed likely that the House bill would not be approved until Bob Dole (R-KS) decided a compromise was needed.

Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, the powerful chairman of the Finance Committee, stepped in to broker a compromise. Dole advised fellow Republicans to make “the extra effort to erase the lingering image of our party as the cadre of the elite, the wealthy, the insensitive. … Our job now is to demonstrate concern to blacks and others who doubt our sincerity.” Dole adopted the House-backed effects test for Section 2 but added a disclaimer that a lack of proportional representation was not enough to justify a Section 2 violation. (Inside John Roberts’ Decades-Long Crusade Against the Voting Rights Act)

In the end, the 1982 Dole compromise passed in, as did the renewal of the VRA for another 25 years.

Voting rights matter, and the only way we regain and retain them is by voting.

Fired up?

About DoReMI 165 Articles
Now a Michigander, by way of Ohio, Illinois, Scotland, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania. Gardener. Sewer. Democrat. Resister.


  1. {{{DoReMI}}} – Voted 1st day of early voting. Projection has ever been a sign of the suppressors/oppressors. They claim voter fraud as an excuse for their election fraud. They always have. The only way to overcome them is with overvoting (turning out in numbers so great they can’t cheat us out of our win) – & then during the short period we have Congress to restore the Voting Rights rules. They’ll take them down again but we’ll get a few relatively honest elections and make some progress first. I will never understand such cruelty, greed, and lust for power – but I certainly acknowledge it exists and am doing my best to do my part to shove it under a rock. moar {{{HUGS}}}

    • There are days when I wonder if we shouldn’t have crushed the Confederacy with a force and thoroughness that was barely considered at the time. Today is one of those days. 😡 But “be careful what you wish for” keeps ringing in my head, so we’ll just have to continue the fight now and for the foreseeable future.

      • We were on track to do that – to a certain extent that’s what the Andrew Johnson impeachment was about. Johnson kept making nice/vetoing the punitive legislation and the R Congress got tired of it. However, while the Rs were anti-slavery they were just as racist as the southern Dems. In an election fraud situation in 1876 the northern Rs agreed to end Reconstruction and pull the US troops out of the Southern “Confederate” states in return for not asking where some ballot boxes (so some 20 electors) went thus “confirming” Rutherford B. Hayes as president. Racism is the underlying foundation of this country. Every action, especially the ones that don’t seem to make sense, can be tagged back to racism.

  2. Thanks for sharing this, DoReMI. It was a good read about the difference between voter fraud (which as you mention is very rare) and election fraud which is what the Rs have conflated with “voter fraud” in people’s minds.

    I hope Paul Weyrich is comfortable in the circles of the underworld. He deserves it.

    • I think it also points to why the Right is a bit more sanguine about who ends up as president. Their shocktroops are well-trained and well-placed for present and future battles; who ends up in the Oval is just a tool to be used by those in the background.

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