Investigate voter suppression

12/23/2016, 6:39 p.m.
The CIA conclusion that the Russians intervened in our elections in order to help elect Republican Donald Trump has sent ...
Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.

Jesse Jackson Sr.

The CIA conclusion that the Russians intervened in our elections in order to help elect Republican Donald Trump has sent Washington into one of its fabled tizzies.

President Obama has ordered an intelligence agency report before he leaves office. Democrats and responsible Republicans are calling for congressional investigations. Pundits are arguing the Russians — combined with FBI Director James Comey’s outrageous interventions — cost Democrat Hillary Clinton the election.

In response, President-elect Trump is tweeting furiously about voter fraud, peddling lies about millions of illegal immigrants voting and many other things to distract from the escalating scandal.

Left out of this brouhaha is the systematic and purposeful voter suppression that certainly cost Mrs. Clinton the election. The Russians didn’t do it. It was done by right wing partisan state officials eager to suppress the vote of people of color, the young and the working poor. These efforts were open, systematic and widespread. And this domestic hacking at our elections was far more destructive than the hacking Russia is said to have done.

This was the first presidential election since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the federal Voting Rights Act. According to the Brennan Center, 14 states passed voter suppression laws that were in effect for the first time in November, including swing states like Ohio and Wisconsin.

The steps taken to suppress the vote aren’t secret — new requirements of voter ID that discriminate against the poor, the elderly and disproportionately people of color; restrictions on use of college ID to impede student voting; closing registration weeks before Election Day; limiting early voting days, including closing on Sundays; holding Election Day on a workday with limited hours for voting, making it difficult for those with inflexible hours to get to the polls; shutting down or moving polling places to confuse voters and force them to wait in long lines; purging voters from the polling lists, leaving them to cast provisional ballots at best; prohibiting felons who have paid their debt to society from ever recovering the right to vote, disproportionately impacting African-American men.

There is little doubt these measures worked and cost Mrs. Clinton the election. In Wisconsin, for example, Mr. Trump’s margin of victory was 27,000. A record 300,000 registered voters lacked the newly required ID, contributing to the lowest turnout in 20 years. Turnout was down by more than 50,000 in Milwaukee, where 70 percent of the state’s African-American population lives.

In North Carolina, black turnout was down 16 percent in the first week of early voting, in part because there were 158 fewer polling places in the 40 counties with large numbers of black voters. The targeting was intentional, with Republican officials celebrating the effects. The decision by the right-wing gang of five on the U.S. Supreme Court in the Shelby case effectively subverted the victory of the Civil Rights Movement at Selma, Ala.

If Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee’s and the Clinton campaign’s emails to influence the election, it should be investigated. In an election decided by 80,000 votes in three states, it might have made a difference — as almost anything could in an election that close.

But what is clear is that Russian hacking was not nearly as effective as the partisan systematic suppression of the vote. And that effort is continuing. Republicans in Missouri took control and moved to institute new voting ID restrictions for the next election. In Wisconsin, Republicans announced plans for new restrictions on early voting.

I urge President Obama to launch an investigation and report on voter suppression to be released before he leaves office. President-elect Trump said he wants to be the president of all Americans. If so, he should lead an effort to end voter suppression and to revive the Voting Rights Act.

Citizens of conscience must move to end voter suppression and clean up our elections.

The writer is the founder and president of the national Rainbow PUSH Coalition.