BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. The Kavanaugh confirmation hearings proceeded with urgency to the sound of a stopwatch that only the GOP could hear, ticking down, down, down.
[CLIPS/MUSIC UP & UNDER]:
SEN. JOHN THUNE: I mean, obviously, this was an 11th hour ambush by the Democrats.
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER MITCH O’CONNELL: Yeah, at the 11th hour, with Committee votes on schedule…
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: And, frankly, we’ve reached a point where it’s time to end the circus.
BOB GARFIELD: Make that three allegations, all of which have brought added intensity to the process.
REPORTER: Should the proceedings be delayed until these allegations are -–
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: No, absolutely not!
BOB GARFIELD: Why not? Why not delay for 10 days or 10 weeks or however long it would take for, say, Mark Judge to come out of hiding? After Antonin Scalia died we, lived with an eight-member Supreme Court for 14 months because then Senate Republicans insisted on patience.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: And we’re not going to move or even discuss the qualifications of any nominee until after the presidential election.
BOB GARFIELD: Obviously, in this case, the clock is set to hit zero on November 6th, when the Democrats have a reasonable shot at taking over the Senate and making it even tougher for a Trump nominee to the High Court. Indeed, the Republican hold on the Congress is so slight, the president seems to be laying the groundwork for accusations of illegitimacy if the Democrats take a House or two by suggesting on Wednesday that China plans to butt in.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: They do not want me or us to win because I am the first president ever to challenge China on trade.
BOB GARFIELD: But we don't need China or Russia to throw sand into the gas tank of democracy because we're doing that ourselves, systematically and increasingly, for more than a century. And we’ve been doing it by keeping people from voting. This past summer, the Brennan Center for Justice released a new report on voter purges. It documented 16 million voters removed from the rolls between 2014 and 2016, almost 4 million more than were removed between 2006 and 2008. And the areas with the most dramatic culling? Exactly the regions that until 2013 were so historically unfair to eligible black voters that the Voting Rights Act subjected them to preclearance from the Justice Department.
CAROL ANDERSON: Precleared means that any changes that that state or that county were going to make in their voting laws had to be okayed by the US Department of Justice or the federal courts before that change was made.
BOB GARFIELD: Carol Anderson is a professor of history at Emory University and author of One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy. She says that the previous law, the 1957 Civil Rights Act, had been insufficient to deal with the disenfranchisement of black voters in the South.
CAROL ANDERSON: By the time that the US was fighting the Nazis, only 3% of African American adults were registered to vote in the South. These states implemented new laws, new purges and the Civil Rights Act couldn't deal with it. The Voting Rights Act could because of preclearance, because these states could not implement a law, then run elections based on disfranchisement, have politicians who had been elected because of disfranchisement who were crafting new disfranchising laws. The Voting Rights Act really short circuited that.
BOB GARFIELD: These jurisdictions had been caught red handed and were required to pass federal muster before enforcing any of these rules intended to suppress the vote, which they claimed was an onerous burden and, by the 21st century, no longer necessary, ‘cause they’d cleaned up their act. And in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court agreed with them.
CAROL ANDERSON: The county commissioners in Shelby County, Alabama had begun annexing vast parcels of land around Calera City, all of this without getting precleared by the Department of Justice, so they're violating federal law. There had been one lone black city councilman in Calera City. The lone black councilman moved from a district where he was going to get elected to a district where over 70% of the residents had voted against Barack Obama. In the next election, after all of this redistricting, Calera City no longer even had one black councilman.
BOB GARFIELD: And the Justice Department sued Shelby County, saying it was in violation of the preclearance requirements and the Voting Rights Act.
CAROL ANDERSON: And the US Supreme Court, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing an opinion for a 5-4 decision, said that one, racism was no longer the kind of prevalent force that it had been that gave rise to the need for the Voting Rights Act. He pointed to black elected officials, Hispanic elected officials, the increase in black voter turnout. And he said, so it’s clear that racism is just not operating in the United States, at least not at that kind of high level. And he said that the Voting Rights Act didn't take into account the changing dynamics of America.
BOB GARFIELD: Let’s just say that the Roberts 5-4 majority was a case of premature recalculation about the level of racism in the electoral process. Comes now the Brennan numbers, which shows that the voter purges suppressing the black vote is highest in precisely the places where the court decision let these jurisdictions off the hook. In other words, they went right back to their former practices.
CAROL ANDERSON: You hit it head on. We had every indication of this. We had Alabama in 2011 that passed a voter ID law. Now, when Alabama was working on this law, the Republicans recorded themselves talking and they said, we need to figure out how to depress the black voter turnout. And then all of the racism pours out. You’re going to have all of these aborigines and these illiterates getting on these HUD-financed buses and going to the polls. And so, they crafted a voter ID law targeted at African Americans to depress the vote, but that was in 2011, before Shelby County v. Holder.
Immediately after Shelby County v. Holder, boom! Alabama begins to implement that law, the same with Texas. And so, these states were just poised. They had these laws drafted, ready to go, and the purging was a key piece of it. Here in Georgia, our secretary of state, Brian Kemp, who is now running for governor, has a program called Exact Match. What Exact Match does is it says that your voter registration card has to exactly match what's in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles database, say you have a driver’s license, or from the Social Security office. Now, where that gets dicey is say that your name is hyphenated, Garcia-Marquez, and you hyphenate it when you write it for your voter registration card bu, say on your driver’s license, in the driver’s license database, there's not a hyphen there, not having a hyphen gets you kicked out of your voter registration and your voter registration is denied.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, it’s not just purges of the voter rolls. It is many other classic tools of voter suppression. I just want to make the point that this is not some sort of new development.
CAROL ANDERSON: It has a long sinister, sordid history. [LAUGHS] In 1890, during the rise of Jim Crow, the State of Mississippi was trying to figure out how do we stop black people from voting? And they devised what was called the Mississippi Plan, such as the poll tax where you had to pay in order to vote, such as the literacy test where you had to read sections of the Constitution, either the state constitution or the US Constitution, and interpret it to the liking of the registrar, such as the white primary where only whites could vote in the Democratic primary, the grandfather clause, the good character clause. That was an array of devices that created a package of disfranchisement targeted at the black population. They couldn't just say we don't want black people to vote because there was this thing called the 15th Amendment to the Constitution that said that the right to vote shall not be abridged on account of race, color or previous servitude.
And so, they were trying to figure out then how do we eliminate most of the black voters, if not all, [LAUGHS] and still remain constitutional? That framing led to going at the societally-imposed characteristics on a people and then making that the litmus test for access to the ballot box. So poverty, coming out of slavery, African Americans were impoverished, there was no 40 acres, [LAUGHS] there was no mule. That kind of poverty then played into the poll tax. The significant massive underfunding of black schools led to high illiteracy rates. And so, therefore, requiring people to be able to read and interpret a large segment of the Constitution, as if they have their J.D. from Harvard, is that you’re setting people up to fail but you're using the cloak of reasonableness by saying, mm, we really believe that a voter should be able to understand what the laws are in our state because we want an engaged citizenry.
BOB GARFIELD: You spoke of reasonableness. Even today, the various attempts to suppress the vote are justified under the pretext of eliminating voter fraud, which would be, I guess, a perfectly good rationale if there really were any voter fraud [LAUGHS] going on. Is there?
CAROL ANDERSON: It is so negligible. Justin Levitt, a law professor out of California, did a study from 2000 to 2014, and he looked at all of these elections and he found that in one billion votes cast -- that's billion with a “B” -- that there were 31 cases of voter impersonation fraud, where somebody had pretended to be somebody else to vote. That's hardly the rampant, widespread voter fraud that we keep hearing about.
BOB GARFIELD: Considering many of these purges take place in Democratic districts where a lot of populations of color reside, is there any reason to think that it effectively changed the presidential election or the balance of the Congress?
CAROL ANDERSON: It clearly had an effect. I mean, we’re talking about millions of voters removed off of the rolls. Begin to think about how Trump basically won the Electoral College on the back of 80,000 votes in three states. Those purges have effects. Those purges – and it’s not just the purges. There are these other mechanisms, what voter IDs do, what gerrymandering does, what moving the polling stations, what not providing enough resources in polling stations in minority neighborhoods, all of those combined. But voter suppression, including the purges, helped put Donald Trump in the White House.
BOB GARFIELD: In your book, you describe what you call that election’s most misunderstood story, and that was the disappearance of black voters because compared to the previous presidential election the black voter turnout dropped from 66% to under 60. In Milwaukee, it went from 78% in 2012 to 50% in 2016. How did you interpret those statistics?
CAROL ANDERSON: In the 2008 election, Barack Obama was elected president. He had an incredible ground game, and that ground game brought into the fore 15 million new voters. The demographics of those 15 million, overwhelmingly black, Latino, Asian, young and poor, that coalition then became targeted in these voter suppression techniques because just like the, the Mississippi plan of 1890 where I talked about how they couldn’t say, we don't want black people to vote, so they went after these kinds of characteristics, societally-imposed characteristics, the same thing happened. So with purges, for instance, minorities, young people and the poor do not vote in every election. So if you have secretaries of state who use not voting regularly as the litmus test for purging, what it does then is, is that it focuses that purge on those groups, on that part of the coalition that put Obama in the White House.
BOB GARFIELD: Let me ask you one more thing. For a century after the Civil War, voter suppression, Jim Crow, racial segregation, and so on, were kind of an equal opportunity enterprise. Democrats and Republicans joined arm in arm to disadvantage minorities. Only in the ‘60s did this become a partisan issue. Today, the efforts that you're talking about, are they not the province of one political party when it's in power in those jurisdictions?
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. This has been a Republican agenda. Now, there are Democrats in certain areas that have some semblance of one of these kinds of mechanisms but to get the whole array, the 21st century version of the Mississippi plan, we’re seeing that implemented in Republican strongholds and we’re seeing that implemented exactly because of what you talked about. With the advent of the civil rights movement that led to the Civil Rights Act of ’64 and the Voting Rights Act of ‘65 and signed by Democratic President Johnson, there was no place then, as the Southern Democrats saw, for them to be in the Democratic Party because now this was a party that said, we are committed to citizenship rights, we are committed to equal rights, we are committed to equality. And the Southern Democrats -- these are the unreconstructed rebels -- are sitting there going, there's no place for me here. And you have the Republicans, via the Southern strategy, then saying, we've got a place for you here in our party. And that toxin then was brought into the Republican Party and it took over.
I mean, Paul Weyrich is one of the founders of The Heritage Foundation and also of ALEC, which was the organization that crafted a lot of these voter suppression laws that spread throughout these Republican states. And he said, look, we don’t want everybody to vote. Frankly, our leverage goes up when the voting population goes down. And so, that is the blueprint. What we’re seeing is a kind of doubling down on voter suppression, as the population becomes increasingly diverse and increasingly repulsed by these right-wing policies of the Republicans.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BOB GARFIELD: Carol, thank you very much.
CAROL ANDERSON: Thank you so much, Bob. This was a wonderful conversation.
BOB GARFIELD: It was. Carol Anderson is author of the new book, One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy.