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‘Stop the Steal’ Didn’t Start With Trump

From the New York Times:

‘Stop the Steal’ Didn’t Start With Trump by Jamelle Bouie

To explain the attack on the Capitol, you can’t just turn your focus to Donald Trump and his enablers. You must also look at the individuals and institutions that fanned fears of “voter fraud” to the point of hysteria among conservative voters, long before Trump. Put another way, the difference between a riot seeking to overturn an election and an effort to suppress opposing votes is one of legality, not intent. And it doesn’t take many steps to get from one to the other.

Over the ensuing years, under pressure from the White House ahead of the presidential election in 2004, the Justice Department ramped up its crusade against voter fraud. Of particular interest was ACORN, a now-defunct advocacy organization that was working — as the presidential election got underway — to register hundreds of thousands of low-income voters. Swing-state Republicans accused the group of “manufacturing voters,” and federal prosecutors looked, unsuccessfully, for evidence of wrongdoing. Later, Karl Rove would press President Bush’s second attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, to fire a number of U.S. attorneys for failure to investigate voter fraud allegations, leading to a scandal that eventually led to Gonzales’s resignation in 2007.

ACORN and voter fraud would remain a bête noire for Republicans for the rest of the decade. Conservative advocacy groups and media organizations produced a steady stream of anti-ACORN material and, as the 2008 election campaign heated up, did everything they could to tie Democratic candidates, and Barack Obama in particular, to a group they portrayed as radical and dangerous. ACORN, Rush Limbaugh said in one characteristic segment, has “been training young Black kids to hate, hate, hate this country.”

During his second debate with Obama, a few weeks before the election, the Republican nominee, John McCain, charged that ACORN “is now on the verge of maybe perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in voter history in this country, maybe destroying the fabric of democracy.” And his campaign materials similarly accused Obama, Joe Biden and the Democratic Party of orchestrating a vast conspiracy of fraud. “We’ve always known the Obama-Biden Democrats will do anything to win this November, but we didn’t know how far their allies would go,” read one mailer. “The Obama-supported, far-left group, ACORN, has been accused of voter-registration fraud in a number of battleground states.”

McCain and the Republican Party devoted much of the last weeks of the election to a voter fraud scare campaign with ACORN as the villain. And while, in the wake of the election, these allegations of illegal voting never panned out, the conservative fixation with voter fraud would continue into the Obama years and beyond.

The narrative of fraud and election theft that spurred the mob that stormed the Capitol would be unintelligible without the work of the Republican Party, which inculcated this idée fixe in its voters. “Stop the Steal” wasn’t a Trump innovation as much as it was a new spin on an old product line that, even after the violence on Jan. 6, Republicans are still selling.

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Georgia

From ACJ:

A federal judge on Wednesday declined to force the state to immediately restore to voting rolls thousands of people who were removed last year.

Voting rights organizations, including the Black Voters Matter Fund, sued Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger earlier this month, challenging the removal of what they said were hundreds of thousands of eligible voters from Georgia’s rolls.

U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones said he would not grant the immediate restoration of voters to the rolls because they have had a year to reregister if they were removed incorrectly and, if the secretary of state’s office did reinstate them, it would cause confusion.

“Plaintiffs acknowledge that they do not know how many people on their list of cancelled registrations may have re-registered before December 7, 2020,” Jones wrote in his ruling. “Thus, the risk of dual registrations and voter confusion is high.”

Read the full article from the ACJ.

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Voter Purge Project Updates

This fall, we have been hard at work doing Get Out the Vote drives to ensure that all eligible voters made their voices heard.

Now that the national election is over, we are focused on the Georgia run-off, where our team of canvassers is out knocking on doors to get out the vote for the January 5th senate race.

All the while, we are still collecting and processing data to track voter purges around the country. Stay tuned for reports and more updates about what we learn from our data.

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Voter Purge Project in Vice

Vice News talked with founder of the Ohio Voter Project and author of the Voter Purge Project’s data cleaning and analysis methodology Steve Tingley-Hock about our work to track wrongful data purges across the country.

“When I ran the initial queries, that was my first indication that there was a serious problem here,” Steve says of the initial Ohio records that showed about 40,000 voters were set to be wrongfully purged. Steve, along with the VPP, now collects and analyzes data for 16 states.

Watch the full video below, and read more about what we are doing with this data in our report.

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Voter Purge Project Report

On October 1, we released Unnecessary Disenfranchisement: Voter Purges Around the Country, a report detailing our work to monitor and organize against wrongful purges across the country.

Read the full report below for background on the project, our methods, and what we are doing to ensure eligible voters are informed of their voter status as November’s elections draw near.

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One IT Guy’s Spreadsheet-Fueled Race to Restore Voting Rights

From WIRED Magazine September 2020 Issue:

Armed with [Steve Tingley-Hock’s], work, voter rights groups in a handful of states are trying to plug these holes in the voter registration system—before hundreds of thousands of voters are drained from the rolls ahead of the presidential election. It’s the story of database nerds, armed with a deep knowledge of SQL, trying to preserve democracy in America.

“One of the scandals here,” Rathke said, “is that some lists are exorbitantly expensive. In Alabama, it costs over $36,000 every time you pull a list. In Wisconsin, which has a huge issue around their purges, it’s $12,500.” So far, Rathke’s organization [Voter Purge Project] is working toward a regular vetting of voter rolls in 13 states. He is preparing to sue nine states, including Wisconsin, to obtain lower-cost access to their voter lists.

Read the full story in WIRED here.

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Texas Dems file complaint to protect right to vote by mail during COVID pandemic

On March 20, 2020, the Texas Democratic Party filed this lawsuit in the Travis County Texas State Court. The plaintiffs sued Ruth Hughs in her capacity as Texas Secretary of State and the Travis County Clerk under state law. Represented by private counsel, the plaintiffs sought injunctive and declaratory relief that allows all eligible voters, regardless of age and physical condition, to cast their ballot by mail, if they believe their health is in danger under the threat of COVID-19 and they need to practice social distancing.

Read the full case summary here.

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Berkeley Law School Students Report: No Easy Legal Fix for Voter Purging

In March of 2020, Pooja Shivaprasad and Amanda Miller, law students at the University of California at Berkeley, produced a legal memorandum examining voter protection rights in Ohio in light of rising voter suppression concerns in this state.

The memo includes an introduction to federal voter protections as well as a brief summary of state laws relevant to Ohio. We hope that this document provides a roadmap by which others can analyze the strength or weaknesses of voter protection laws in their states.

Shivaprasad and Miller found that there is no clear path to legally challenging many voter purging practices, which makes the work of the Voter Purge Project and our partners even more critical.

The report also found that:

  • The National Voter Registration Act (“NVRA”) was enacted under the Elections Clause of the Constitution and signed into law in 1993, and prohibits removal from voter registration lists solely because of a failure to vote.
  • Ohio’s voter purge practices were litigated in Husted v. A. Phillip Randolph, a 2018 case in which the Supreme Court ruled that Ohio’s practices of clearing the state’s voter rolls of individuals who had died or relocated did not violate the NVRA or the Help American Vote Act of 2002 (HAVA). Advocates found that Husted’s holding has disproportionately affected low-income communities, communities of color, and the housing insecure.
  • Section 8 of the NVRA prohibits states from removing registrants from voter registration lists solely for failure to vote, but states can implement “supplemental” processes to get around this prohibition.
  • HAVA requires state election offices to develop clear procedures for accepting, verifying, updating, and canceling voter registrations across the state.
  • Each state is responsible for ensuring its practices are in compliance with the NVRA.
  • State laws provide little guidance to local election officials and do not specify what identifying characteristics should be verified after a potential duplicate record has been flagged or what degree of approximation is permitted when comparing potentially duplicative entries. Despite these vague laws local election officials report increased pressure from state officials to “clean” the voter registration list of duplicate records. 
  • There are no federal legal remedies in place that allow for voter list maintenance transparency.
  • Purging practices vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and offer few protections for affected voters.
  • As of September 2017, the Public Interest Legal Foundation had brought nine suits in six states in the previous two years alleging lax vigilance of voter rolls

We are extremely grateful to Berkeley Law, Pooja Shivaprasad, and Amanda Miller for their work and expertise in producing this report.

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VPP Developing New Field Testing Methods to Investigate Voter Purges and Drops

Excerpt – Wade Rathke, Chief Organizer Blog – February 15, 2020

As the Voter Purge Project moves forward, we are now analyzing the voter files on more than a dozen states on our way to double that number in coming weeks. Many of them include the hotly contested “battleground” states like Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, and North Carolina.  The VPP is processing these lists with our database team assure that any voter suppression efforts are prevented from purging legitimate voters or purging voters in a discriminating way based on race, ethnicity, income or any other reason. 

Early results have been encouraging, with some important results in terms of voters saved and purges forestalled, but the project continues to wrestle with huge questions and concerns.

One of the most puzzling is determining the difference between purges for death or address changes as opposed to unexplained “drops” or voter disappearances. Another is whether in states like Ohio and Georgia, where a piece of mail can trigger a purge if there has not been a recent voting history, the purge is legitimate.

I spent time with former ACORN organizers in person and on the phone while in Columbus trying to puzzle out a field test that would combine our database analysis and questions with on-the-ground door knocking to determine either the answers or the legitimacy of these actions by the government. 

In Columbus, we decided to look at four zip codes in the heart of our historic low-and-moderate income, African-American constituency in Ohio. We analyze the Ohio voter file on a weekly basis when it is posted on the Secretary of State’s website, so we can tell who the “disappeared” are in almost real time.

The plan would be to pull the names that are deleted in these zip codes from week to week and then to deploy organizers on the ground to visit the last known address of the voter that was in our database before they were either purged or dropped.  By keeping rigorous records of whether or not the actions were valid or not, we estimate that we would be able to determine the accuracy of the government’s actions and calculate a percentage of validity in the list.  In Ohio and other states where on-line registration is possible, we might be able to re-register them on the spot or work out a verification system with the authorities so that they were put back on the list.  If this works, we would do identical field tests in Atlanta, Georgia, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The notion for this kind of field test occurred to me as I visited Barbara Clark, a former ACORN organizer in the childcare center where she was working part-time.  She and some other former ACORN members were involved in circulating petitions for various initiatives in Columbus and were often paid by the signature.  She was complaining about the problems her team would have in collecting their money when the signature verifiers would claim that signatures were invalid when the people signing had sworn to them that they were registered.  In thinking with her about a way to use our voter list access to keep her team from being ripped off, it seemed like there might be a way to reverse engineer her negative experience and find a way to “clean” the list in the street and build a firewall and prevention program around these purges and voter disappearances preemptively.

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Georgia is adding more Democratic-leaning voters faster than Republicans can purge them

Daily Kos – February 11, 2020

Georgia Republicans have been working hard to get voters off the rolls, and indeed, they reduced their numbers by 7% in last year’s purge. The bad news for those Republicans, however, is that nearly as fast as they throw voters off the lists, new ones—in large part younger and more racially diverse—are registering.

There was a 3% increase in registered voters in the last year, and new voter registrations outpaced the purges of 2016-2018, with 902,000 new voters replacing the 797,000 removed during that time. Another 98,000 were purged late last year, in what was a limited win by Stacey Abrams’ group Fair Fight Georgia: The original plan had been to delete more than 300,000.

The share of voters aged 18-34 has increased by 68% over the last three years, to comprise almost a third of the state voters. The share of white voters has decreased since 2016 as well, though whites are still a 59% majority of those who identify their race when they register. In 2016, that share was 62%. The state began automatic registrations at driver’s license offices in September 2016, which account for about 1.1 million of the new registrations. But it’s not just that, as voter registration drives have been activated ahead of the 2020 election, when Georgia will have two U.S. Senate seats and three open House seats as well as the president on the ballot.

“We’re seeing an aging cohort that’s majority white, and then you’ll see an increasing younger age cohort [that’s] majority nonwhite,” Mike Carnathan, manager of research and analysis for the Atlanta Regional Commission, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “That’s exactly what the future of metro Atlanta holds when it comes to the composition of the population.”

Read the rest of the story at the Daily Kos website.