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Time for a Citizens’ Commission to Defend Our Right to Vote

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Donald Trump’s commission on “election integrity” is meeting sensible resistance.

The commission issued letters calling on states to provide it with extensive personal information on all voters, including names, addresses, birthdates, party affiliation, the last four digits Social Security numbers, military status and criminal records. This data collection would be targeted by every cyber thief in the world.

At least 20 states have already indicated that they would not comply completely, including California, New York, Texas and more.

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, said his reply would be: “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from.” Hosemann said, “Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”

The president’s commission is founded on a lie and perpetuates a fraud. The lie was Trump’s whopper that he would have won the popular vote if 3million to 5 million voters hadn’t voted fraudulently. There is no, literally no, evidence that anyone of any political stripe can find to back up that lie. In fact, fraudulent voting in the United States is rare, isolated and insignificant.

The commission is perpetuating a fraud because it wants to use fears about voter fraud to suppress voting — to make it harder to register and vote, particularly for working and poor people. The commission is run by its vice-chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. He is notorious for his crusade to push voter suppression laws, as well as to feed fears about illegal immigration.

The commission is set up to push the new Jim Crow voting laws, which require picture ID’s, curtail early voting, cut back on voting booths, permit no Sunday voting, repeal automatic or motor-voter registration and more. Its posturing about voter fraud is the fraud. The real aim is to make it harder to vote, with impediments that disproportionately impact people of color.

In reality, voter suppression had a real and direct impact on the 2016 election — a far greater impact than the handful of isolated incorrect or “fraudulent” votes cast, or the hacking allegedly masterminded by Vladimir Putin. The 2016 election was the first without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. Fourteen states — including swing states like Wisconsin, Ohio and North Carolina — had new voter restrictions in place.

In Wisconsin, Trump won by 27,000 votes, but an unknown and likely quite large number of eligible voters lacked the newly required forms of ID. (A federal judge ruling in a lawsuit against the state’s voter ID law in 2014 put the number at 300,000.) Turnout in 2016 was the lowest in decades, particularly in Milwaukee, home of 70 percent of the state’s African-Americans. In North Carolina, even after a federal court overturned the state’s anti-voter measures for targeting African-Americans “with almost surgical precision,” Republican officials cut back hours and closed polling places. Early black voting turnout plummeted, according to the Nation, as the 40 counties with the largest African-American populations were allocated 158 fewer polling places.

Voter suppression works. And so does voter empowerment. As the Nation also reported, Oregon enacted automatic voter registration, which added 250,000 new voters to the rolls. An impressive 79 percent of registered voters turned out in 2016.

We do not need a commission to investigate Donald Trump’s fantastical excuse for losing the popular vote. We need a commission to investigate the reality of voter suppression — and how to make voting easier, not harder. That agenda would include automatic voter registration, longer early voting, an election day holiday, more polling places, hand-counted ballots to avoid cyber threats and more.

Both Trump and the Republican Congress are more interested in raising barriers to voting than in lowering them. Democrats would be well advised to create their own independent commission, staffed with the best experts in the nation, to lay out a serious plan to end voter suppression and empower people to vote. Voting is the essential right in a democracy. It needs to be protected, not suppressed.

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Jesse Jackson is the founder of Rainbow/PUSH.

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