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A horrifying theme throughout this entire election season has been seeing the values and goals of the GOP that have long been dog-whistled and hinted at with coded language — anti-Muslim sentiment, xenophobia, unapologetic white nationalism, virulent misogyny — has been made excruciatingly explicit by Trump and his campaign. Right now, as the election approaches, one avenue in which this has become very clear is that of voter suppression. The GOP has long fought to try to keep people that it thinks won’t vote Republican away from the polls; this has often meant restricting the voting rights of people of color, especially Black voters, and poor voters. It’s for this reason that we’ve seen an uptick in voter ID laws, which as North Carolina’s lawsuit regarding them showed, are intended to place as many obstacles as possible between voters of color and the voting booth — a federal appeals court ruled that the state’s voter ID law should be struck down because it was “passed with racially discriminatory intent.” Now, as the election date creeps closer, we’re seeing Trump’s camp reproduce in crude strokes the same strategy the GOP has used for years — accuse Democrats and Dem voters of voter fraud while quietly trying to keep them away from the polls by any means necessary.
In a piece that looks at Trump’s camp as the clock counts down, Bloomberg got an incredible quote from a campaign staffer in yet another moment where it’s unclear whether the Trump campaign doesn’t realize that it’s doing something objectionable or illegal, or whether it knows and just doesn’t care who finds out.
Instead of expanding the electorate, [campaign chairman Steve] Bannon and his team are trying to shrink it. “We have three major voter suppression operations under way,” says a senior official. They’re aimed at three groups Clinton needs to win overwhelmingly: idealistic white liberals, young women, and African Americans.
It’s unclear, ultimately, whether the “senior official” quoted knows what voter suppression is; while it would be naive to think that the Trump campaign does not have a genuine interest in real voter suppression, the tactics the campaign goes on to describe aren’t actually meant to stop people from voting, just convince them not to vote for Clinton. Essentially, the campaign is using targeted Facebook ads and more general messaging to try to reach specific demographics — Bernie Sanders supporters, young liberal women, and Black voters — to suggest that Clinton doesn’t have their best interests at heart. Slate has rounded up the basic points they’re trying to hit:
+ “Trump’s invocation at the debate of Clinton’s WikiLeaks e-mails and support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership was designed to turn off Sanders supporters.”
+ “The parade of women who say they were sexually assaulted by Bill Clinton and harassed or threatened by Hillary is meant to undermine her appeal to young women.”
+ And some black Americans will see a Facebook post about Clinton discussing “superpredators” in 1996. (Clinton used the term in the context of a speech praising the racially controversial 1994 crime bill but did not use it to describe black citizens in particular.)
Against this backdrop, we’re seeing the first few days of early voting in a number of states, and the first few reports of real voting issues. NBC has been tracking voting problems across the US, and reports that “hundreds of voters” have been removed from rolls in North Carolina, where state law allows “for private citizens to formally challenge a voter’s eligibility ahead of an election.” Many of the voters removed from rolls are in Cumberland County, an area with a statistically higher number of Black and African-American voters than the rest of North Carolina (35% compared to 21.5%).
There doesn’t seem to be much concern about North Carolina’s disenfranchised voters from Trump’s camp, which makes sense; Trump did, however, tweet this morning suggesting that “vote flipping” is occurring in Texas — when a voting machine registers a vote for a candidate other than the one the voter selected. This is kind of a confusing allegation for Trump to make given that, as ThinkProgress points out, Texas is one of the states where the election process is controlled by Republicans, so he would be claiming that his own party is rigging the election.
A lot of call-ins about vote flipping at the voting booths in Texas. People are not happy. BIG lines. What is going on?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 27, 2016
Election officials told the Dallas Morning News that even if vote flipping did occur, it would be a machine error and would be something they could deal with, and wouldn’t actually reverse people’s votes. “We can absolutely verify and check that in front of the voter,” [Collin County elections official Bruce Sherbet] added. “If there were a problem with a machine, it would immediately be taken out of service.” NPR explains further why “some machines are flipping votes but that doesn’t mean they’re rigged.”
There are problems with voting so far in Texas, however — just not the ones that Trump is claiming. NBC reports that so far, there have been a number of problems with poll workers misunderstanding Texas’s voting laws and telling voters that they need photo ID when they don’t (in Texas, can vote without ID if you sign an affidavit of your identity), turning at least one voter away. Previous to the beginning of early voting, a court “found that the state used misleading language in describing the new rules …it found an earlier public education campaign about the ID law to be ‘woefully inadequate.'”
These stories of voting irregularities aren’t likely to be the last ones we hear of; and as Trump likely continues to spiral, we’ll probably continue to see increasingly baseless accusations of voter fraud and other alleged attempts to “rig” the election. Hopefully the many actual risks to the exercise of voting rights can be mitigated enough that Trump’s thoughts on elections become at least just a matter of cultural significance, not headline news.