Trump's Claim That The Election Is Rigged Undermines The Very Real Legacy of Voter Intimidation

Photo by George Frey/ 2016 Getty Images
Trump's assertion of fraud tears at the very foundation of our political system, stirs fear and distrust, and mocks the individuals and institutions that have fought for fair representation for decades. 

A major candidate for President of the United States is asserting that this election will be rigged.

In fact, this claim has become one of GOP nominee Donald Trump’s key talking points as he crisscrosses the country with just days left until the election. Like many of his claims and charges, this one is not based on any evidence or data.

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Further, he is encouraging his supporters to “watch” the polls, which is code for voter intimidation and threats. His assertion of fraud tears at the very foundation of our political system, stirs fear and distrust amongst his faithful, and mocks and demeans the individuals and institutions that have fought for fair representation in the electoral process for decades. 

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Voter fraud is when there is willful wrong doing associated with the election process, either before or during the actual campaign season. Traditionally the wrongdoing focuses on poll workers improperly prohibiting legal voters from participating in an election or permitting those prohibited from voting to cast a vote. But in this election, the narrative of voter fraud has falsely turned to focus on individual illegal immigrants and unnamed urban dwellers who may tamper with the process, or try to participate, if they are not “watched” by Mr. Trumps’ supporters.

It is time to remind people about the systematic eroding of the ability to participate in the democratic process for millions of Americans—at the hands of recent state level legislative and federal court actions. This type of rigging is very real, easy to prove and should be where the focus really lies.

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In the United States we have historical examples of how the process of voting has been rigged. Poll taxes, literacy tests and night raids are all examples of how elections were rigged in the past. We also have examples of how the federal government—after agitation—moved to remove those barriers and allow people access to the Democratic right to vote. We have examples of people and organizations, including the Urban League, which helped people remove barriers so everyone could participate in the political process. 

Since 1965, the Voting Rights Act has provided protection to African-Americans and other underserved people at the polls. In June 2013, in a huge blow to democracy, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the coverage formula used for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which required jurisdictions with significant histories of voter discrimination to “pre-clear” any new voting practices or procedures. This essentially meant that federal oversight from the Department of Justice that had been required to make sure that new procedures did not have a discriminatory purpose or effect, was no longer.

The erosion of the Voting Rights Act by the Court has created the opportunity for rigging in communities all across the nation. Voter ID laws are disguises as measures intended to ensure that a registered voter is who he says he is and not an impersonator trying to cast a ballot in someone else’s name. Thirty-six states have now enacted voter ID laws in some form—but they aren’t being used for a noble or moral purpose.

These laws disproportionately target elderly, minority and low-income groups that tend to vote Democratic and try to impede them from voting. Obtaining photo ID can be costly and burdensome. These IDs require documents like a birth certificate that can cost up to $25 in some places. Some states have cut back on early voting or voting on Sundays, deterring people who need flexibility to go to the polls and taking a shot at the tradition of “Soul to the Polls” movements, where African-American congregations voted in mass following Sunday services. 

In North Carolina, where some of the most egregious voter ID laws have been enacted, a federal appeals court in June accused Republican officials of an “almost surgical assault “on black voter turnout. What is most terrifying, is that it is working. The New York Times this week reported that early voter turnout for African Americans in North Carolina is down 16 percent from 2012 levels.

And now, as if these assaults weren’t enough, we have the emergence of a new threat to the legitimacy of our election system—the myth of rampant voter fraud being perpetrated by a major candidate for President.

The sacrifice that my ancestors made was for participation not outcome. Win or lose our country bases its very democratic values on the right of individuals to select their leader. On Nov. 8, whether voters had to produce ID, birth certificates, Student IDs or gun license, we will come to the polls and select our next leader. False claims of rigging by a candidate facing a less than desirable outcome, should not be allowed to justify the disenfranchising of minorities, legal immigrants, the poor and elderly. That’s not the Country we live in and we can’t allow it to happen.

Arva Rice is President & CEO of the New York Urban League (NYUL) whose mission is to enable African Americans and other underserved communities to secure a first class education, economic self-reliance and equal respect of their civil rights through programs, services and advocacy.

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