Donald Trump has gone all in on claims that voter fraud and various forms of election chicanery threaten to so distort the election outcome that he could fail to emerge victorious.
The Republican presidential nominee has hired staff and put out repeated calls to his mostly white voters to monitor polling site activity in “certain cities,” which happen to be home to large numbers of voters of color. And the man who will oversee the whole thing has a history of lobbing voter fraud claims that have been supercharged by an element of race-related fear.
Trump’s complaints have become so loud and so frequent that Republican officials across the country have taken to publicly lambasting Trump for suggesting that our democracy is a sham. But, these outraged and insulted Republican officials include several people who have spent the better part of the last decade insisting that nearly nonexistent in person voter fraud, organized and individual efforts to register individuals who cannot vote, and various other conspiracies are not just real but require new measures to assure the integrity of the election process.
What we have witnessed will, for future generations, clarify the meaning of the term irony.
Nearly three dozen states — most of which are led by Republican governors and Republican-controlled legislatures — have voter ID laws in place right now because Republican officials have railed about the threat of what they describe as real and widespread instances of voter fraud. Elections could easily be stolen, they insisted. And, when all else failed, there were claims that Democrats, immigrants and other groups that contain lots of people of color were deeply involved in conspiratorial activity that could definitively adulterate election outcomes.
Laws in some states where Republican officials expressed the very same concerns have since been overturned by courts because of clear evidence that the identification requirements were designed to disproportionately hinder the ability of people of color, the very old and the very young to vote. Two of the three groups lean heavily toward Democrats, making measures passed under the guise of protecting the integrity of elections actually render outcomes that do not reflect the will of all the people. But still 34 voter ID laws — the handiwork of Republican lawmakers — continue to stand.
Trump has taken special care to intermingle his ostensible concerns for democracy with what he all but describes as the threat to white political dominance in the United States. But Trump simply is not the originator of the Republican Party’s allegations that elections have been or could easily be rigged or the party’s attempt to reap political rewards by keeping critical parts of the Democratic Party’s base away from the polls.
In fact, the Republican faithful approved a change to the party’s platform this year to strengthen the party’s existing plan to require voter ID at various stages in the voter registration and voting process. (See page 16 in the party platform.) And this notion that no legitimate election can be held in the absence of voter ID laws — well, that can be heard on conservative talk radio and cable news programs at least a few times a week. These things are said even though report after well-researched report and some of the country’s most respected investigative journalism outlets have repeatedly disproved claims that the election system is or could be easily corrupted.
Here’s more proof.
The voter ID requirements identified in the map below predate the Trump campaign. The nation’s first voter ID law was passed in South Carolina in 1950. By 1980, Alaska, Florida and Texas had implemented similar requirements.
Then, in the 2000s, two critical things happened, according to a history compiled by NCSL, a nonpartisan organization:
The Commission on Federal Election Reform (a.k.a. the Carter-Baker Commission), in 2005 made a bipartisan recommendation for voter identification at the polls.
Soon thereafter, Georgia and Indiana pioneered a new, “strict” form of voter ID. Instead of requesting an ID, these states required an ID. If a voter did not have the required ID at the polling place, he or she voted on a provisional ballot, and that ballot was not to be counted unless the voter returned within the next few days to an elections office and showed the required ID. These were first implemented in 2008 (after Indiana’s law was given the go-ahead by the U.S. Supreme Court, in Crawford v. Marion County).
What the NCSL’s history didn’t say but The Fix will is that those “strict” voter ID requirements often made forms of ID more likely to be held by middle class and wealthy Americans, white Americans and those born after hospital births became the norm the only acceptable forms of identification. And, then, some states, including Alabama — the place from which the lawsuit that ultimately overturned portions of the Voting Rights Act originated — began shuttering state offices and limiting the hours during when the public agencies that issue the required forms of ID are open. The affected areas were home to large numbers of black voters. That triggered a federal investigation. Alabama reopened some of the shuttered offices.
Yet Republican public pushback against Trump has been characterized by outrage befitting amnesiacs.
Last week, two Republican senators — one current, one former — told Politico they are appalled by Trump’s comments
“Somebody claiming in the election, ‘I was defrauded,’ that isn’t going to cut it,” said former senator Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican who earlier in the campaign endorsed Jeb Bush and then Marco Rubio. “They’re going to have to say how, where, why, when.”
“I don’t think leading candidates for the presidency should undercut the process unless you have a really good reason,” Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who gained little support for his own 2016 White House run, told Politico.
And, this week, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R), who oversees voting in a critical swing state with a history of long Election Day waits for some voters, and Steve Schmidt, a Republican and the chief strategist behind Sen. John McCain’s failed 2008 presidential bid, joined Bond and Graham. Husted and Schmidt have raised detailed, and at times evocative, counterclaims. They have described Trump’s rhetoric as plain false and dangerously likely to undermine public confidence in the election outcome.
However, Graham has praised South Carolina’s Voter ID law and voted for a federal voter ID mandate. Bond, who left the Senate in 2011, has gone around the country for years now claiming that Democrats have operated a “criminal” conspiracy to register ineligible voters and pervert the election process. These ideas have rolled off Bond’s lips in public dating back to at least 2000. And while advocating for a federal voter ID law, Bond said this in 2008: “Vote fraud is alive and well in America. The only question for us is are we willing to stop it.”
In 2015, Husted purged 200,000 Ohio residents from the state’s rolls who had not voted for two years, describing it as an effort to prevent fraud.
The list of rather large reversals goes on.
It is a pattern so pervasive that Princeton professor Eddie Glaude Jr. wondered aloud on MSNBC Wednesday morning if Donald Trump has simply managed to amplify what the Republican Party has been saying and doing to advance its policy ideas and candidates for years.