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Nolan writes: "Democrats have the House. Besides not passing horrific bills for a change, what should they do? They should start holding hearings on voter suppression. And they should keep on holding them."

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Republican candidate for governor. (photo: Jessica McGowan)
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Republican candidate for governor. (photo: Jessica McGowan)

Start the Voter Suppression Hearings Now and Don't Stop

By Hamilton Nolan, Splinter

07 November 18


emocrats have the House. Besides not passing horrific bills for a change, what should they do? They should start holding hearings on voter suppression. And they should keep on holding them.

Republicans win elections in part by systematically and purposely suppressing the votes of people likely to vote Democratic, most often minorities. This is a fact that was amply demonstrated in the 2018 midterms, from Georgia to Kansas. It is also a historic fact that has helped to produce our current age of gerrymandered districts and a concerted right wing effort to roll back legal protections designed to ensure voting rights. (You can follow this thread all the way back to the U.S. Constitutional Convention, if you like.) Political professionals all understand this fact and its strategic use. A fair and functioning democracy is not conducive to Republican electoral success, and therefore Republicans try to see to it that our democracy is neither fair nor functional, as a tactic.

People who are simple-minded enough to think that our electoral system’s distribution of power should reflect the true will of the electorate may be upset to wake up today and see that Democrats lost a net three Senate seats even though they received nine million more votes in Senate races. Abolishing the Senate would be one of the best things we could do to promote democratic values, but until then, these sorts of gaps between the popular vote and who ends up in office—hello, President Trump—serve to focus the public mind on the fact that our system is rigged. The Democrats can help this process along now, and do something for justice while they’re at it.

We need campaign finance reform, and we need to fix gerrymandering. But the sort of bald, outright, muscular voter suppression that Republicans are now engaged in cries for an even more immediate response. It is one thing for us to have a system designed to be undemocratic, necessitating a structural change; it is another thing for Republicans to simply abuse their power to bully and harass vulnerable people away from the polls. Until the Democrats can somehow get enough power to make the structural changes, they need to stand up against the bullying and racism and xenophobia that are now accepted as normal parts of electioneering.

The House can hold hearings on voter suppression. They can start immediately. They can subpoena every fucking Republican secretary of state who can reasonably be judged to have assisted in the suppression of minority voters. They can subpoena law enforcement officials. They can subpoena campaign staffers. They can subpoena poll workers. They can call in all types of political science professors and statisticians and sociologists to explain in detail what is happening. They can invite Michelle Alexander to read the entirety of The New Jim Crow into the Congressional record. They can draw attention. They can make noise. They should, and they must. The more you let the overt oppression slide, the more it will be seen as the standard playbook for the next election.

Donald Trump is an idiot savant who understands one single thing about politics: the theater. He does not know about laws. He does not know the Constitution. He does not know ethics, or conservative principles, or budgets. He knows how to put on a show. The fact that he is now the fucking president demonstrates how important a show is in politics. Democrats can also put on a show—one that has the added benefit of being righteous, and using true facts. Subpoena Brian Kemp and his entire campaign staff and drag them before Congress and harangue them for being racists and if they don’t come, harangue an empty fucking chair with a Brian Kemp name tag in front of it, live on CNN. Besides making a very salient point, do you know who might appreciate such a spectacle? The people whose votes are being suppressed.

What Republicans are doing to our democracy is outrageous. It requires the production of outrage. Democrats can produce it. Time to start.

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+18 # Benign Observer 2018-11-07 18:23
Exactly. That is what Democrats need to work on. Florida's felons voting act is going to change politics in that state fast and furious.
+2 # Trumpistheswamp 2018-11-08 08:50
How about being very clever and calling it the "Donald J Trump Commission on Voter Fraud and Voter Suppression"? Use Agent Orange's words against him, while appearing to honor the trash he spews about voter fraud.
+7 # jon 2018-11-08 08:52
Equally important is eliminating all digital voting machinery. Paper ballots are an absolute must. Take it from an old, retired computer programmer. It is extremely naive to believe we can ever have fair elections as long there is no auditable PAPER trail to count, and then recount, if necessary.

To continue with computer voting is a crime, or ignorance - period. This should be very high on the agenda of the next Congress. And if the Republicans howl - as they guaranteed will - we should make constant loud noise about their intention to rob Americans.
+8 # lfeuille 2018-11-08 11:47
I'm afraid it's going to be harder than it should be to get the Dems, the leadership anyway interested in investigating voter suppression. They don't want to be seen as "sore losers". But it's not about THEM. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly their constituents, have had something important stolen from them. The Dems. just cant't keep ignoring this. They have step up and help these people get their vote back.
+6 # tedrey 2018-11-08 12:24
Thank you, Hamilton Nolan. I've been planning to draft something along these lines, and you've just done it more comprehensivly, more convincingly, and more fiercely than I could ever have done. Get this appeal out as widely as possible, and make sure the new Congress acts on it.

I must add one more point at the risk of turning some thumbs up to thumbs down by readers who don't think twice. While doing all that Nolan advocates, let's also investigate electoral evil wherever it may be. Even if we're sure there's actually almost no voter fraud, let's thoroughly prove that and call out what there may be. While calling out the overwhelming enormities the Republicans have been committing, let's not ignore any similar things a few Democrats may have done.

For two reasons: first, because we don't want to leave a toehold for any counter attacks on the ground of bias, of false equivalency, of "you do it too":

And second, because it is just the good, honest, and decent thing to do.

But what Nolan calls for is absolutely essential for the survival of anything like an honest electoral future in the United States. May the new Congress live up to it!
+2 # 2018-11-10 13:03
Democrats are not exactly the heroes in the white hats, riding in on the white horses. Look what they did to Bernie Sanders in the primaries! Had they refrained from insisting on pushing a candidate who was not liked by many Democrats, most independents, and all Republicans, our country might be a very different place right now. So don't put blind faith in the Democratic Party to fix the election system -- they are likely to be "fixing" it to force their own neoliberal candidates down our throats!

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