President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order to create a commission to investigate his own baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2016 election. This order was signed despite the failure of the Trump administration to provide evidence of any abnormalities; numerous media outlets have rated such claims false.
While we might be tempted to dismiss these latest hijinks from the White House as more distraction, we can’t lose sight of the real threat posed by this order — as another assault on our right to vote.
Over the last decade, Republicans in Washington and in statehouses across the country have worked to pass restrictions on this crucial and fundamental right, passing bills to eliminate or shorten early voting, requiring photo IDs, gerrymandering and making it more difficult to register to vote at all. These efforts culminated in the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder to gut key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act on ideological lines.
Let’s be clear: These actions aren’t taking place in a vacuum. Making it harder for young people and people of color to vote — constituencies that have trended towards the Democrats in recent years — is part of a larger strategy to consolidate power and disenfranchise those who would oppose Republicans. We’ve seen the results of that strategy right here in Texas.
The 2010 census showed that the state’s population grew by 4.3 million over the previous decade, and nearly 90 percent of those new Texans were Latinos, Asians and African Americans. Texas Republicans responded to this population growth by adopting strict new laws governing voter registration efforts, gerrymandering districts to dilute racial minority voting power and implementing one of the nation’s harshest voter ID laws.
I witnessed this firsthand as the regional voter protection director for Battleground Texas in the Dallas-Fort Worth area during the 2014 election. That election was the first major election held in Texas under the new voter ID law, a statute that was later called ‘intentionally discriminatory’ by a federal judge. It was even struck down by the conservative-dominated 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The congressional and state House district maps drawn by Texas Republican officeholders have also been struck down, found to have been created with the intent to dilute the voting power of people of color.
Today, Texas consistently ranks at or near the bottom of all 50 states in voter participation. It should be no surprise that our leaders in Austin and in Washington, D.C. aren’t creating legislation that represents the values of the diverse and dynamic Texas that I know and love; those leaders were elected by a small group of carefully selected voters and are beholden to the moneyed interests they rely on for support.
In the midst of all of this, Donald Trump appointed Jeff Sessions to lead the Justice Department — a man who cut his teeth in Alabama fighting to restrict the right of blacks to vote. Sessions lost an appointment to the federal bench in 1986 after civil rights icon Coretta Scott King wrote a letter opposing his nomination, writing that he would “irreparably damage the work of my husband,” Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
In Sessions’ short time as attorney general, he has already taken dramatic steps backwards on our civil rights and liberties, and has ordered the Justice Department to abandon its opposition to discriminatory state voter suppression laws.
All in all, these attacks represent a fundamental erosion of our democracy, and are a far cry from the ideals of the Party of Lincoln — the party that authored the 14th and 15th Amendments. These aren’t the ideals that undergird the great American experiment in representative government. If we truly want a government for the people, by the people, we need to ensure that all eligible Americans have the right and opportunity to have their voices heard at the ballot box.
More than a century ago, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to vote is a “fundamental political right” because it is “preservative of all rights” — meaning our right to choose our leaders is the cornerstone of all our other rights. We must continue to oppose the efforts of the Trump Administration and those closer to home who are working to undermine that right, and work to build a system that respects the fundamental democratic ideals that our country was founded upon.