The Real Election Fraud? Voter Suppression.

As the country turns the page on Trump, we must shine the spotlight away from lies and onto one of the true threats to our democracy.
by Michael Berlind
Contributor: Chris Ware

While the final months of the Trump administration were marked by repeated claims of voter fraud levied by President Trump and Republican lawmakers, these allegations were so baseless as to result in dozens of rejected lawsuits in state and federal courts, and most crucially, they distracted from the real story of the 2020 election cycle: the ramped up efforts of suppressing the vote among the most disadvantaged people in our society during a once in a lifetime global pandemic.

It’s important to define terms that may seem vague or interchangeable. Voter fraud is a form of election fraud involving the “intentional corruption of the electoral process by the voter.” This definition would apply to any way in which a voter would falsely claim voter eligibility for themselves or for others. Voter suppression, on the other hand, is election fraud defined as “any behavior intended to deter an eligible voter from casting a ballot.” While voter fraud is extremely rare, there were multiple instances of egregious voter suppression in 2020, most noticeably in large minority population centers and swing states.

Your Fundamental Right To Vote Was Made Increasingly Difficult

Minority-heavy areas in conservative-run states became a prominent target for voter suppression. The common thread in these cases was a reduction in the availability and accessibility of voting locations. In Texas, governor Gregg Abbott ordered that dozens of absentee mail-in ballot boxes be shut down weeks before the November 3rd election, limiting ballot drop-off locations to one per county. This included Harris county, home to 4.7 million people and the largest in the state, as well as Dallas county, with over 2.6 million residents. While a federal judge ruled that Abbott’s order was “a proclamation plaintiffs have shown likely violates their fundamental right to vote,” the United States Federal Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ultimately upheld the Governor’s order. 

Something similar occurred in Kentucky: during the 2020 primary election, the number of polling locations was reduced from 3700 to just 170, or a 95% reduction. This left only one polling location in the urban center of Louisville, home to nearly half of the state’s African-American population. Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Georgia, voters reported waiting times of ten to eleven hours as early voting kicked off in October. This can be explained by the fact that, despite an estimated additional 2 million registered voters in Georgia since 2013, polling locations have decreased by 10% statewide. This hardship disproportionately affects working-class and minority voters who cannot afford such long waiting times. And if they chose to vote by mail, they were required to pay postage costs that arguably double as an unconstitutional poll tax.

Your Vote Was Not Guaranteed To Be Counted

Affronts to voting rights were also heavily felt in several swing states which could ultimately determine the outcome of the election. These cases mostly centered around the issue of mail-in voting, which faced repeated unsubstantiated attacks from President Trump in the months leading up to the election. The following are clear examples of challenging the ability to successfully vote by mail, despite it being the safest way for people to do so in a public health crisis. In Michigan, an appeals court ruled that ballots received after 8 p.m. on Election Day could not be counted, even if they were postmarked prior to November 3rd. 

Similarly, in a decision regarding Wisconsin, the Supreme Court voted 5 to 3 against a prior ruling that would have allowed correctly postmarked mail-in ballots to be counted if received up to six days after November 3rd. And in Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign pushed several lawsuits prior to Election Day in order to limit how long mail-in ballots could still be counted. The Trump campaign also sent officials to meddle in early voting activities, prompting the state attorney general to warn that they could face charges of voter intimidation.

Even Deep Blue States Weren’t Immune To Election Fraud

Voter suppression has also been observed on a local level; some notable incidents took place across several municipalities in California. In Baldwin Park, CA, a ballot box fire scorched an estimated 230 ballots, which made identifying voters and resending ballots to the affected parties nearly impossible. While the cause has not been officially determined, this incident was reported to the FBI and investigated by the L.A. County Fire Department as possible arson. In an obvious case of attempting to mislead voters, the California Republican Party admitted to placing more than 50 falsely labeled “official” drop-off boxes for mail-in ballots in Los Angeles, Freso, and Orange counties. California’s secretary of state was forced to order the state and county Republican parties to remove the boxes.

How Do We Fight This Affront To Democracy?

These extensive and well-documented instances of voter suppression beg the question: how do we counter it? The answer lies at the intersection of awareness, legislation, and accountability. We need a strong awareness of voter suppression nationwide – while drawing the focus away from the red herring that is voter fraud – so as to give this issue the attention and the urgency that it deserves. This can help create momentum for much-needed legislation on both state and federal levels. A recent example is H.R.1, aka the For The People Act of 2019; this legislation was passed by the House of Representatives, and included measures to curb voter disenfranchisement. Finally, it’s crucial that individuals and groups interfering with the right to vote, or deterring people from voting in any way, be held accountable and prosecuted. 

Only once our government, media, and law enforcement agencies acknowledge this problem and take concrete steps to resolve it, will we be able to affirm that our fundamental right to vote is safe, and that democracy is strong and thriving in the United States.

Editor: Alison Hartson

Michael Berlind

Michael is somewhat of a third culture kid, an American born in Cyprus, and raised in France through his high-school years. He grew politically aware during the Bush era and the dawn of the Iraq war, which his parents – a former diplomat and a journalist – were fervently opposed to.  

While he cast his first vote in 2012 as a college student, it wasn’t until the 2016 election cycle that he became more educated and critically-minded about the systemic political issues we face. He was particularly inspired by Bernie Sanders’ people-powered campaign and willingness to fight for real change. Now firmly progressive and engaged  – and an avid viewer of The Young Turks – Michael has been vocal in supporting progressive policies, media, and candidates. He phone-banked and canvassed for local school board and city council races the following year, and was an early supporter of Justice Democrats like AOC. 

In addition to volunteering for Bernie 2020, he is very proud to be working with the TYT Army in their fight against bias and propaganda in our media, which he sees as crucial to changing the political narrative of our lives. Michael has a day-job as a customer service representative, and is also working towards a career in screenwriting.

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