The National Commission for Voter Justice (NCVJ)
The year 2018 will mark the seventh year of a brutally effective state by state voter suppression movement. In 2011, immediately following the 2010 Elections and a changeover in many state legislatures, scores of voter restriction bills were proposed and adopted, including onerous photo Voter ID bills; cuts to early voting; elimination of Sunday voting; voter registration group restrictions; reductions of polling sites; and other major barriers making it difficult for African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans, people with disabilities, women, students, returning citizens, LGBTQIA, especially transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, and low-income citizens to register and participate in the franchise.
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States issued its decision in Shelby v. Holder which not only eviscerated a principal tool for attacking these new voter suppression schemes in the federal courts, it also emboldened jurisdictions to enact even more voter suppression measures.
This anti-Democracy movement continues to escalate. In 2017, over 90 new forms of voter term suppression legislation were proposed in over 30 different states. Most notably, President Trump composed an Advisory Committee on Election Integrity which was stacked with known voter suppressors, including Kris Kobach, Secretary of State of Kansas as its Vice-Chair. After much controversy, confusion and litigation, including the refusal of many states to provide invasive voter data, on January 3, 2018 President Trump issued an executive order dissolving his Commission and instructing the Department of Homeland Security carry forth this agenda by reviewing data collected and making recommendations. On January 4th, President Trump renewed his complaints of massive, widespread voter fraud and urged states to adopt photo voter ID laws. In addition, the Public Interest Law Foundation has undertaken a nationwide voter purging campaign, based on faulty data, threatening litigation against thousands of jurisdictions should they fail to eliminate voters from the rolls. Elections held on November 7, 2017 were marred by deceptive practices, voter intimidation and outright racist appeals including robo-calls placed in Virginia misdirecting voters to the wrong polling sites; racist flyers against candidates of color; an infamous flyer telling voters to vote from home; and racist appeals.
In the December 12th, Alabama Senate election, voter suppression reared its ugly Hydra heads in several different forms including onerous photo voter ID requirements; “voter caging” resulting in thousands of regular voters being placed on the inactive list; 200,000 voters caught in limbo by Alabama felony disenfranchisement law; malfunctioning election equipment; understaffed and too few polls; lack of disability accessibility; and police operations at polls. Aggressive voter mobilization, especially in the African American community, was able to navigate these barriers.
The National Commission for Voter Justice (NCVJ)
The National Commission for Voter Justice (NCVJ), inspired by Reverend Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, and Barbara Arnwine, founder and president of the Transformative Justice Coalition, with founding partner, the National Bar Association, will highlight, document, and address the scourge of voter suppression across the country, while advancing electoral reform and civic engagement to promote an inclusive and robust U.S. democracy. This non-partisan and diverse commission composed of prominent civil rights leaders, voting rights experts, scholars, elected officials, lawyers, students, and community activists will undertake a schedule of work centered around independent research, hearings and listening sessions in the states to hear directly from U.S. citizens; publications of findings, recommendations and strategies; and direct organizing and collaboration with community-based organizations to enhance voter engagement. The National Commission for Voter Justice will compile, review and distill existing reports published by the federal government, states, major research institutions, civil rights, voting rights and civic engagement organizations as well as prior private and public commissions. Collaboration with non-partisan institutions and other commissions focusing on voting rights issues and vulnerable communities will be actively pursued.
In the 2018 primaries, thus far, many of these voter suppression tactics, especially voter purging have presented obstacles for vulnerable voters. Most troubling was the contorted decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute which construed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) to allow states to use “Failure to Vote” as a trigger for starting a specified process for purging voters despite the plain language of the NVRA and HAVA that prohibited purging for “failure to vote.” The Court specified that Ohio could use “failure to vote” to initiate the NVRA process of sending forwardable postcards to voters at last known address, stating failure to return may lead to being purged, and if not returned, to purge the voter if that person failed to vote in 2 subsequent federal elections. Evidence entered into the record showed 60% of all recipients of these postcards did not return them regardless of whether or not they still resided at the address. Also, as voters of color and low income people moved more frequently, they were disproportionately impacted by these purging processes. Following the Court’s ruling in Husted, 14 states announced their intent to follow the Ohio process in purging voters.
A July, 2018 report of the Brennan Center for Justice, found a dramatic increase in voter purging, especially by states previously subject to Section 5 preclearance under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. See report at www.brennancenter.org. Based on this report, these states purged at a rate 33% higher than non-previously covered states. More than 2 million additional voters were purged than would have normally been purged. Again, this burden of purging fell disproportionately on voters who were from communities of color or low-income.
More recently, there has been a resurgence of fights around racially discriminatory poll closings and poll relocations for the 2018 Midterm Elections. Cynically, non-compliance by jurisdictions with the Americans with Disabilities Act has been wrongfully cited as the rationale for these actions.
Fortunately, there is an aggressive civil rights and voting rights community which has organized to fight in the courts and in the state legislatures against these measures but most of this opposition is unknown to the public. And, the spirit of the people, especially Black women, is strong in mobilizing to elect more diverse and progressive candidates and in resisting attempts to undermine our democracy and our vote!
The NCVJ will address and preemptively strategize a voter empowerment initiative that addresses the following: voter registration, universal early voting, automatic voter registration at 18 and restoration of voting rights for returning citizens. This Commission will be a high profile and vital voice in presenting a counter-narrative to President Trump’s continued efforts to advocate for voter suppression measures and the myth of widespread voter fraud. Crucial to its work will be a strong and intricate collaboration with national, state, regional and local voting rights, civil rights, racial justice, disability rights, civic engagement, LGBTQIA, and student organizations, labor and tribal nations to undertake and promote the work of the Commission.