North Carolina, with its legislature’s Republican super majority, has for the past several years been under scrutiny for its voter suppression tactics. A ruling by a panel of federal judges on Aug. 27 found that the state’s 2016 congressional redistricting plan, designed to ensure Republican victories, was unconstitutional. However, the same court later also ruled that the gerrymandered congressional district maps could be used in this November’s midterm election because there wasn’t sufficient time to redraw them.
Now a new investigative report sheds light on another dimension of current efforts to suppress the votes of minorities and others viewed as likely to vote for Democratic candidates in North Carolina. President Trump’s Justice Department, along with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency or ICE, demanded in early September that 44 county boards of election, the statewide Board of Election and Ethics and the state Department of Motor Vehicles, which registers voters, turn over all records related to voters and voting from 2010 to the present.
Steven Rosenfeld, the author of the report, titled, “North Carolina Is at the Heart of Trump’s Voter Suppression Project,” concludes that the subpoena for an estimated 20 million election documents is part of a strategy to intimidate Latino voters into not casting a ballot this November. In fact, Rosenfeld infers that this request for documents is an extension of the work begun by the discredited and now disbanded Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity tasked with investigating President Trump’s false claim that the U.S. suffers from a widespread problem of voter fraud. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Steven Rosenfeld, senior writing fellow with the Independent Media Institute, who summarizes the critical issues revealed in his investigation.
STEVEN ROSENFELD: The Republican party knows that they are losing their popular vote numbers by the change in American demographics. So, in state after state where you would have essentially purple legislatures – you know, a mix of red and blue – you’ve seen a catalog of things to tilt the process to try to have the Republicans be overrepresented numerically. And this gets into gerrymandering, which goes back to 2011. After that, you had the Supreme Court throw out the main enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act, which basically said the feds could come in and overrule any local law if it was found to be discriminatory in a way that prevents people from voting compared to what was the status quo, and that was 2013. And you had this rash of red states passing stricter voter IDs, like in Texas, you can get a ballot by showing gun license, but not a college ID. You know, this is not new stuff.
But what is new is that in some states like North Carolina, like Texas, like Georgia, there’s fears that black and brown voters and particularly Latinos are going to register and vote Democratic. So when you raise the specter that ICE is going to investigate and not just voter registrations, but anybody who also registered to vote or updated their information when they got their driver’s license – which is what’s happening in North Carolina – you raise the specter of a random federal dragnet. That if it doesn’t come after you, it might come after someone in your family who might not be here legally. Let’s just say many extended families have, you know, one person, maybe more, who is not necessarily entirely legally present here or the visas are outdated. And nobody wants to get stuck in the headlights of the feds on their random fishing expeditions and there’ve been a lot outside of the election sphere in terms of, you know, roundups and deportations. The numbers aren’t big, but you know, the fear is very widespread.
This is nasty. I mean, this is an extension of the raids on high schools for, you know, the parents of undocumented kids who are then carted off to detention centers. It’s pretty vicious stuff. And there are other layers to this because the Republicans use bad data – intentionally bad data – to try to question whether somebody’s voting credentials are legitimate.
You know, we’re a country of 330 million, 340-350 million people now, you know, and only 365 days a year. So a lot of people have the same names and the same birthdays. So, if they see a duplicate, they assume that something is fraudulent when they just don’t have enough data to authenticate what’s real. And that’s on purpose. So you have a mix of going to an agency that has a shadowy dragnet thing and then this data grab, which is what Kris Kobach and the Republicans tried to do under Trump and that federal commission to fabricate suspicious numbers.
And all this was coalescing in North Carolina, where, over the Labor Day weekend, this Trump-appointed attorney basically sent out subpoenas saying we want 44 counties to turn over every election record they have and the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) to turn over every voter registration record they have going back to 2010. And they’re doing it on behalf of ICE. It’s pretty layered. It’s pretty nuanced. It’s also really dark and it’s really nasty. And I spoke to a lot of Latino organizers. It has an absolute chilling effect. Those 44 counties are the most Latino part of North Carolina and people absolutely are scared to turn out and vote.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Tell us about the pushback. How are people organizing in North Carolina to push back on these policies that really impact people’s ability to change their government? And that is the heart of democracy that I think has to be a number one issue, not just for people in North Carolina, but across the country, especially given the fact that Republicans are practicing voter suppression politics just about everywhere where they have a majority.
STEVEN ROSENFELD: That’s the thing about all of these tactics that we’re talking about is that they’re not new. So, unlike 2004, where everybody was banging their head against the wall going, oh my God, how did John Kerry lose Ohio?
What’s happened since then is people who are organizers, they really know what the tactic is and they know what the solution is. And, and what’s happened since increasingly is that online communications, you know, the Internet and the development of big data. And quite frankly, you know, forums like Facebook, people know what the game is. They know how to reach people who might be affected and they know how to succinctly say what to do. I dare say these days there are a lot of reasons to turn out to vote. And in many states it’s never been easier.
And in the states with the biggest obstacles, the hurdles are known, people just have to have a will to do it and they have to get ahead of the deadlines. And those deadlines begin in a couple of weeks when you have the 30 days before the Election Day voter registration deadline.
For more information on the Independent Media Institute, visit independentmediainstitute.org.