He was a proud Korean War veteran. He was also black and lived in Texas. That meant that by 2013, Floyd Carrier, 86, was a prime target for the state’s voter suppression campaign, even though he was “Army strong.”
In an election that year, when he handed his Department of Veterans Affairs card to the registrar, he was turned away. No matter that he had used that ID for more than 50 years without a problem. Texas had recently passed a burdensome and unnecessary law that required voters to show a state-approved ID with a photo. His card didn’t have one.
The North Koreans couldn’t break Mr. Carrier, but voter suppression did. “I wasn’t a citizen no more,” he told a reporter last year. “I wasn’t.”
Voters across the country are now realizing that they, too, have crossed into the twilight zone: citizens of America without full citizenship rights. The right to vote is central to American democracy. “It’s preservative of all rights,” as the Supreme Court said in its 1886 ruling in Yick Wo v. Hopkins. But chipping away at access to that right has been a central electoral strategy for Republicans.
Anthony Settles, a Texas retiree, had been repeatedly blocked from the ballot box because his mother changed his last name when he was a teenager, and that 50-year-old paperwork was lost in what he described as a “bureaucratic nightmare.” After spending months looking for the wayward document, and then trying to get certified by the name he has used for more than half a century, he knew, beyond all doubt, that he had been targeted.
“The intent of this law is to suppress the vote,” Mr. Settles told a Washington Post reporter in 2016. “I feel like I’m not wanted in this state.”
That was the point. Demoralize people. Strip away their voting rights. Debase their citizenship. Dilute the diversity of voters until the electorate becomes homogeneous. Lie and say it’s because of voter fraud. But most important, do all of this in the name of saving democracy.
Rampant voter fraud does not exist. There is no epidemic of illegal voting. But the lie is so mesmerizing, it takes off like a wildfire, so that the irrational fear that someone might vote who shouldn’t means that hundreds of thousands who should can’t cast ballots, in part because of the increase in voter ID laws across the country in recent years.
The best way to understand the lie is to understand how it began: on Election Day in 2000. What happened then affects who will show up to vote in less than two months, and how confident they’ll feel when they get to the polls.
Florida’s electoral malfeasance in the 2000 vote is infamous. But that election in St. Louis was also a disaster, and it taught the Republicans an important lesson: Block people of color from polling places by any means necessary. And it showed them, point by point, how to create a voter suppression road map that is paying dividends today.
The St. Louis Board of Elections had purged some 50,000 names from the voter rolls, primarily in key Democratic precincts. And it had failed to notify the people who had just been stripped of their vote, as the law required.
So when those voters showed up to cast their ballots, they were told they were no longer registered. Besieged precinct workers couldn’t get through on the jammed phone lines to check much of anything. Some opted to send frustrated would-be voters downtown to the Board of Elections office to resolve the issue there.
This combination of poor record keeping and ill-prepared officials meant that hours and hours dissolved as the clock on Election Day wound down. When the polls were about to close, the lobby was still packed with people waiting to cast their ballots.
Democrats filed for an injunction to keep precincts open to accommodate voters who had been caught in the Board of Elections runaround. A circuit court judge agreed and ordered the polls to stay open for a few more hours.
Republicans were not having it. Senator Christopher Bond said the voting extension “represents the biggest fraud on the voters in this state and nation that we have ever seen.” Others made the case that this was just a Democratic maneuver that would result in hundreds of fraudulent votes.
Republicans filed an appeal to close the polls. A state appeals court obliged. Shortly after the circuit court’s decision, the doors slammed shut on hundreds of people waiting in lines to vote.
Then things got worse.
Missouri Republicans twisted this clear case of election board wrongdoing into a torrent of accusations against the Democrats and the overwhelmingly black residents of St. Louis. Missouri’s Republican secretary of state, Matt Blunt, called the effort to keep the polls open an attempt “to create bedlam so that election fraud could be perpetrated.” Senator Bond went further: It was a “brazen” and “shocking” effort to commit voter fraud.
It was, of course, nothing of the sort. Instead, it was an illegitimate purge of approximately 49,589 eligible voters by the Board of Elections. It was also sloppy record-keeping and bureaucratic malfeasance. But, for the Republicans, that was not the point. Rather, it was about fine-tuning a voter suppression master plan. They learned three key lessons from the bungled election.
The first lesson was that demographics were not destiny. The voting-age population was becoming less white and more African-American, Latino and Asian. In 1992, nonwhite voters made up 13 percent of the American electorate. By 2012 that figure had risen to 28 percent. That growing share of the electorate favored the Democrats. A poll by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies in the late 1980s found that only one in two black Republicans thought his party cared about problems facing the black community. In the 2000 presidential election, nine in 10 black voters, 62 percent of Hispanic voters and just over half of all Asian voters backed Al Gore.
Posted by The NON-Conformist