Commentary: Voting and race in 2020: Be aware of impediments

By Greg Williams and Ken Abraham

Studies show that hundreds of thousands of nonwhite voters, in crucial states, failed to vote in 2016. All of us, and all candidates, should encourage them to vote this year.

Some potential voters perceive the voting act to be worth less than the required effort; therefore, they’re unlikely to do so. This point incentivizes the voter ID proponents to lead and mislead actual and potential racial, ethnic, older and younger voters into believing the voting act requires substantial effort.

Greg Wiliams

Voting barriers can include early registration deadlines, inconvenient polling sites, long wait times, untrained election officials, lack of transportation, strict bosses who don’t allow employees the time to vote, or even photo ID requirements. These examples can make voting seem troublesome. With statistical significance, a 2014 U.S. General Accountability Office series of studies determined that voter turnout declines in states that have voter ID laws. It also provided evidence that while 93% of white people owned driver’s licenses, only 79% of black citizens had them. Therefore, photo ID laws discriminate against at least one historically disenfranchised group and violate the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Jim Crow system held many restrictive voting laws, which included “understand” (condescending) clauses, the white primary and poll taxes. That structure shrank the electorate.

Further, Republicans have embraced the mantra of Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation and the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. In 1980, he infamously suggested, “I don’t want everybody to vote. … As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Voter suppression via strict ID policy is one way to demobilize voters.

Two additional strategies involve campaign finance laws (“Citizens United”) and the suspect redistricting of voting districts (“gerrymandering”). All these strategies ruthlessly oppose U.S. democracy.

Claims that nonexistent voter fraud is a more significant problem than are the electoral system’s structural, suppressive inequities have “justified” tighter voting restrictions. Yet, these repeated claims demonstrably are myths. We can cite about 50 specific academic studies that expose their fallacies, and not one credible study contradicts them.

Ken Abraham

To raise the concerns of engaged GOP voters, conservative media outlets spread propaganda of voter fraud and then argue for the need to implement restrictions. They first invent the problem; then, they broadcast it to their audiences. They claim that because vast numbers of people believe it, our elected leaders must act on those concerns.

As critical-thinking citizens, we should ask, “How does mass media create and challenge claims of expertise, and how do their audiences ‘consume’ the competing knowledge claims?”

Some argue for the voter ID need by comparing it to photo ID “requirements” to board a plane, purchase beer, enter any government building or buy cold medicine. Though life may be much easier when carrying a photo ID, these statements aren’t necessarily even true. Moreover, they’re privileges and never should be referenced as civil rights or civic responsibilities, such as with voting rights. Therefore, such comparisons are irrelevant, false equivalencies.

Critical thinking allows us to contemplate whether large numbers of people would consider a reward worth the risk. With the threat of deportation, for example, it’s implausible that many without immigration documents would vote. They’re trying to stay under the radar! The argument that undocumented immigrants would commit mass voter fraud is ridiculous. No credible, empirical research suggests otherwise.

In this internet and social media age of widespread misinformation, a real “fake news” perspective is critical. The spreading of false propaganda designed to worsen social, economic and political divisions nationwide and hurt Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential candidacy shows us this, and the U.S. intelligence community confirmed that the concept of fake news arose from Russians exploiting American social media.

We must be aware of all these impediments to free elections and do our duty and vote!

Greg Williams, Ph.D., of Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit research policy analyst specializing in democracy, voter fraud disinformation and voter suppression.

Ken Abraham of Dover is a former prosecutor and founder of Citizens for Criminal JUSTICE.