President Donald Trump's call for a "massive investigation" into widely debunked "voter fraud"—and his vow to "strengthen up voting procedures" depending on what that probe reveals—is merely laying the groundwork for further Republican voter suppression measures, democracy experts are warning.
After his latest reiteration of the lie that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, Trump took to Twitter Wednesday morning to announce he would ask for an investigation into "voter fraud, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and....even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time)."
In addition to serving as a potential distraction from the other items on the president's Wednesday agenda (like his plans to lift a ban on CIA "black site" prisons or to order a temporary ban on most refugees and a suspension of visas for citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries), Trump's voter fraud threats are a misleading "prelude to massive voter suppression by [the] GOP," as The Nation's Ari Berman warned.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) issued a similar analysis on Tuesday, saying that when Trump asserts such falsehoods, "he is sending a message to every Republican governor in this country to go forward with voter suppression."
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) January 24, 2017
Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, was just one more voice cautioning the same.
Not only do the things Trump listed not necessarily constitute "fraud," but his stated solution—to "strengthen up voting procedures!"—is a clear pretext for Republican-led initiatives such as large-scale purging of voter rolls or a national voter ID push, observers said.
'Major investigation' on 'voter fraud' is about pushing Photo ID plus proof of citizenship to vote. Fight it NOW! https://t.co/gEodn2Ljhw
— Rep. Keith Ellison (@keithellison) January 25, 2017
No. WH can structure probe to find outdated voter rolls (not fraud), give cover for GOP Congress to purge voter rolls/pass national voter id https://t.co/SvJuRBnVUr
— Wesley Lowery (@WesleyLowery) January 25, 2017
The specter of "voter fraud" has always been used to justify discriminatory voter suppression. Not just recently but in American history
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— Vann R. Newkirk II (@fivefifths) January 25, 2017
The question of voter fraud has been asked & answered--exhaustively. There is almost 0. This is about Trump's insecurity/voter suppression.
— Julián Castro (@JulianCastro) January 25, 2017
We all need to realize that Trump will use his "voter fraud" investigation to suppress minority voters & people who might vote against him
— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) January 25, 2017
What's more, voting rights are already at-risk if Sen. Jeff Sessions is confirmed to helm the U.S. Department of Justice. NAACP President Cornell Brooks has described Sessions' history on voting rights as "perhaps the most troubling" aspect of his record. And when asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) about Trump's voter fraud claims at his confirmation hearing earlier this month, Sessions refused to debunk the president-elect's assertions and in fact perpetuated them. "I do believe we regularly have fraudulent activities occur during election cycles," he said.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights pointed out on Wednesday that Sessions "once made up fraud charges to wrongly prosecute voting rights activists, and the White House appears to be using the same anti-civil rights playbook."
As Liz Kennedy and Danielle Root of the Center for American Progress wrote in November: "Those who champion voter suppression laws are often the most vocal voter fraud conspiracy theorists. They know that voter ID laws and cuts made to polling places and early voting disproportionately affect people of color, people with low incomes, as well as students and youths—groups that tend to vote for Democrats."
"Fearmongers have succeeded in convincing nearly half of all Americans that widespread voter fraud is real," they continued. "In doing so, they have been able to pass laws that deprive eligible Americans of their right to vote. Voter fraud does not pose a threat to American democracy because it simply does not exist. Voter fraud conspiracy theories, on the other hand, have led to a direct assault on our democracy and our fundamental constitutional rights through tactics to suppress American voters."
Indeed, Public Citizen president Robert Weissman declared Wednesday: "Trump's call for a 'major investigation' into nonexistent voter fraud is a fraud on democracy. It is the latest escalation of a voter suppression campaign designed to deter people of color and young people from registering and voting. That voter suppression, which denies vast numbers of Americans their democratic voting rights, does merit a full-fledged investigation, restoration of the Voting Rights Act and enforcement of the law."