As the nation marked the 52nd anniversary of the Voting Rights Act over the weekend, there were reminders aplenty that the right to vote is far from secure across America.
An NBC News report spotlighted the Trump administration’s irrational zeal to crack down on voter fraud – irrational because there’s no evidence that voter fraud is a serious problem in U.S. elections. An administration-backed push to eliminate duplicate voter registrations and purge voter rolls of people who haven’t voted in multiple elections is liable to disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters, the report demonstrated.
The experience of Larry Harmon, 60, a resident of Kent, OH, illustrates the danger. Harmon missed three consecutive elections, starting in 2010; when he went to the polls last fall, he learned that his name had been wiped from the rolls.
"I’ve been paying my taxes, paying my property taxes, registering my car," Harmon told NBC. "All the data was there for (election officials) to know that I was there."
Officials said Harmon was mailed a notice to confirm his residence after he failed to vote in 2010; when he didn’t respond and didn’t vote in 2012 of ’14, they removed his name from registration records. Harmon said he never received the notice.
An “election integrity” commission created by Trump has asked 44 states covered by the National Voter Registration Act to submit details on their voter purge processes.
"This is a prelude to setting up voter purging," said Vanita Gupta, who headed the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division during the Obama administration.
Election officials acknowledge that voter rolls are rife with the names of people who have relocated or died. A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2012 suggested one of every eight registrations is invalid or inaccurate.
But there is almost no evidence that those invalid registrations are being used to cast actual votes, and tracking down and eliminating duplicate registrations is complicated. Election analysts note that thousands of people have the same name and the same birthday, for example. Data compiled by an independent research firm and analyzed by NBC indicate that more than 25,000 registered voters are named “Michael Smith,” and more than 18,000 of those share a birthday with another Michael Smith.
Meanwhile, at Wired.com, a pair of civic-minded researchers laid out a plan to safeguard our elections against increasingly aggressive computer attacks like those that intelligence agencies say were run by Russian hackers in the 2016 election.
Carsten Schurmann, an associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, demonstrated the vulnerability of America’s election hardware last month at Def Con 2017, the world’s largest convention of computer hackers. He needed just a few minutes to gain remote control of a WINVote voting machine used in several states between 2004 and 2015.
Partnering with Jari Kickbuscharsten, a journalist and author, Schurmann argued on Wired that state and local election officials should:
- Retire old and outdated voting machines and replace them with machines that generate a voter verifiable paper record that can be audited to verify the reported result;
- Secure voter registration systems against hacking by deploying them only on secured and dedicated servers;
- Require risk limiting audits in precincts that use electronic voting machines;
- mplement laws and policies that ensure that voting machines are properly maintained and software continuously upgraded to protect against evolving threats.
- Improve training of poll workers.
Schurmann and Kickbuscharsten warn that while the 2018 midterm elections are 66 weeks away there is no time to spare in shoring up voting systems.
On top of these threats to our elections, there is the perilous state of the Voting Rights Act itself.
The Supreme Court’s decision four years ago in Shelby County v. Holder left the act a shell of its former self; the justices effectively eliminated a requirement that states and localities with a history of discriminating against minority voters get federal approval before changing their voting laws or procedures. In the wake of the ruling, many states have moved to impose voter identification requirements, restrict registration and voting hours and take other steps that work to lower voter turnout.
While the high court invited Congress to pass a new formula for evaluating state voting laws, the Republican majorities in the House and Senate have refused to even hold hearings on bills that would shore up the Voting Rights Act. Their inaction ends a long run of bipartisan support for safeguarding voting rights and encouraging turnout.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Voting and Elections