President Trump’s establishment of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity is “a futile attempt to justify… groundless claims that millions of people voted illegally, and a pretext for future suppression,” Sen. Chris Coons, D-DE, told a Washington forum on Wednesday.
Sen. Coons, a longtime advocate for voting rights, told the Brennan Center for Justice-sponsored event that he has a tough time “keeping his tongue in his head” when racial discrimination in voting is discussed. He invoked the image of Rep. John Lewis, D-GA, having his skull split open by a Ku Klux Klansman during the famous Selma-to-Montgomery march of 1965, and reminded the crowd that racism remains an issue today, even if we see fewer instances of overt racial violence.
Trump created the election integrity commission this month after making repeated - and unsubstantiated - claims that up to 5 million people voted illegally last fall, giving Hillary Clinton a majority of the national popular vote even as Trump won a majority in the Electoral College and with it the presidency. The commission’s mandate includes recommending ways to protect U.S. elections from foreign tampering like the Russian-backed cyber attacks that occurred last year, but Coons suggested its real purpose is to justify a deliberate and decades long effort to systematically bar low-income citizens and people of color from registering and voting..
In 2013, the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required federal “preclearance” of election laws in states with a history of discrimination. Since then, states across the nation have put in place various voting bills with seemingly benign objectives such as “protecting election integrity” and “fighting voter fraud.” Coons argues that these objectives hide a more sinister political motive - keeping citizens out of the ballot box.
Dissenting in Shelby County, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg likened repeal of the preclearance provision to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” Supporters of the Court”s decision argued that preclearance is no longer needed because the high African-American turnout in 2008 demonstrates that voting rights are no longer threatened.
Other local, state and federal cases tell a different story, proving that racial discrimination is still a factor in redistricting and voting laws. Just this week, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling which concluded that North Carolina’s most recent redistricting process was marked by racial gerrymandering..
Justice Ginsburg, Sen. Coons, and Rep. Lewis -- as well as organizations like the Brennan Center and Common Cause - are fighting to protect the rights of disenfranchised minorities who have had to struggle -- sometimes physically -- for the most basic freedom of democracy: the right to vote.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections