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Skewing Democracy White

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Every real problem this country — and this planet — face is replaced by a fantasy problem, which all the powers of government then pretend to address. Meet Donald Trump, master of the street con, trickster extraordinaire.

How many cabinet positions and high-level government posts have been filled by someone whose life work and raison d’etre make him or her the least qualified person imaginable for the job? Names burst from the news: Scott Pruitt, Betsy DeVos, Rick Perry, Jeff Sessions . . .

And now there’s Kris Kobach, who brings an ironic twist to the con, in that he’s actually a perfect fit for the position he has recently been given by Trump: vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a.k.a., the voter fraud commission, whose mandate is to stanch the flow of illegal people swarming into America’s polling places by the millions and, ahem, voting. Good God, they almost threw the election to Hillary last year.

Kobach, Kansas secretary of state, is the guy who developed Crosscheck, a voter-tracking system that is ingenious in its inanity: It finds people on the list of registered voters in participating states who have the same names, like . . . oh, James Brown (actual example) . . . and declares that they are one person voting multiple times. And they are then subject to removal from the voter roll, even (eyeball roll is appropriate here) if their middle names differ. This is such an obviously inept process it’s hard to believe anyone on the planet takes it seriously. But it’s part of hardcore Republican governance.

It’s almost as though, in an eerie way, Trump Republicans really do believe that illegal voters are invading the system — if not technically illegal, then morally illegal, in that voting against Trump proposals or Republican ideas in general (the wall, the elimination of Medicaid) is a sign that that you’re not a real American. And this is especially true if you belong to a racial minority.

The mission of Kobach’s commission is to ensure that Republican America holds strong, even as the party itself sinks ever more deeply into minority status.

The New York Times editorial board defined the “real goal” of the Commission on Election Integrity thus: “to make voting harder for millions of Americans, on the understanding that Republicans win more elections when fewer people vote.”

Investigative reporter Greg Palast, who has long been sounding the warning about Crosscheck, put it a bit more bluntly: “This country is violently divided, but in the end, there simply aren’t enough white guys to elect Trump nor a Republican Senate. The only way they could win was to eliminate the votes of non-white guys—and they did so by tossing Black provisional ballots into the dumpster, ID laws that turn away students — the list goes on. It’s a web of complex obstacles to voting by citizens of color topped by that lying spider, Crosscheck.”

American quasi-democracy has a long, long history of what one might call protective racism, and it hasn’t gone away. What requires protection is the status quo of power. And nothing is more inconvenient to the status quo than real democracy, with regular people having a say in the creation of their social structure. That means the politically powerful are always vulnerable, especially if they focus on serving their own interests, not their constituents’. You can see the problem with that.

The Crosscheck program, as well as the presidential claim that the problem with America’s democracy is that too many people are voting, are examples of contemporary — deeply coded — racial politics. According to Palast, Crosscheck’s list of suspect voters in the 2016 election “was so racially biased that fully one in six registered African-Americans were tagged in the Crosscheck states that include the swing states of Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona and more.”

Forget about the Russians. Election tampering is a game played by Republicans. And it’s hardly limited to Crosscheck. Another highly effective vote suppression measure is the recent spate of strict voter ID laws, which, according to a study by researchers at the University of California San Diego, “skew democracy in favor of whites and those on the political right.”

This is because “the lack of proper identification” — that is, a government-issued photo ID — “is not evenly distributed across the population. Studies show that a lack of identification is particularly acute among the minority population, the poor, and the young,” according to the study.

Furthermore, existing laws are not applied evenly. Instead, “poll workers disproportionately ask minorities for identification.” And, the study notes, “these laws are passed almost exclusively by Republicans and . . . they tend to emerge in states with larger black populations.”

Other tricks and games meant to suppress minority voting include fewer polling locations, shorter hours for voting, repeal of same-day voter registration and the disenfranchisement of felons and (in three states) ex-felons, which is one of many shattering consequences of the country’s expanded prison-industrial complex.

“The effects of voter ID laws that we see here are eerily similar to the impact of measures like poll taxes, literacy tests, residency requirements, and at-large elections which were used by the white majority decades and centuries ago to help deny blacks many basic rights,” the study concludes.

The fraud is committed by those who govern, not those who vote. It comes from the top down.

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Robert Koehler is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor.

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