The Threat Within

Supreme Court, not Russia, imperils democracy

While we’re often distracted by allegations of Russian efforts to influence our elections, we’re ignoring a much more important danger: the U.S. Supreme Court’s homegrown threat to our right to vote and have confidence in the accuracy of our elections.

A Supreme Court ruling in 2013 facilitated voter suppression. The Shelby v. Holder decision gutted the Voting Rights Act, and rolled back voting rights protections in states that had histories of discrimination in access to voting. Those effects made a huge difference in the 2016 presidential election.

According to a recent study published by the Brennan Center for Justice, the effects of the 2013 ruling included increased voter ID requirements at polling places, redistricting without regard for racial makeup of the districts, disenfranchising minority voters and voter roll “purging,” i.e., removing voters for dubious reasons. The result was that after 2013, two million eligible voters were purged from voting rolls.

In 2016, some elections officials further suppressed the vote by reducing the number of available polling places, making it more inconvenient for people to vote, printing an insufficient number of ballots, forcing voters to mark provisional ballots which have a higher chance of being rejected than regular ballots and allowing malfunctioning voting machines to “lose” votes.

At the same time, the Supreme Court has allowed unlimited corporate money in politics. Three years before gutting the Voting Rights Act, the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling erased the prohibition on dark money in politics. Their specious reasoning was that the First Amendment prohibits the government from restricting political campaign spending by corporations. The result has been a deluge of corporate and dark money support for business-as-usual candidates.

Who interfered more in elections: Russia or the Supreme Court? It’s easier to blame Facebook postings by alleged Russian operatives than to reverse Supreme Court rulings, but that’s what we’re going to have to do if we want to get our elections back.

Alice Chan is an elections integrity activist and delegate to the California Democratic Central Committee.

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