Last month, Donald Trump claimed in a tweet that “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
Politifact immediately rated this claim a “Pants on Fire” level of lie. Election experts all agree: the amount of voter fraud in American elections is vanishingly low.
Nevertheless, we must treat these unserious claims from the President-Elect seriously for two reasons. First, though millions more Americans would prefer Hillary Clinton to be President, Donald Trump will be President. So, every foolish, dangerous, and demonstrably false thing he says must be taken seriously. But, second, and more importantly, Donald Trump’s claim of widespread voter fraud is part of the GOP’s larger strategy of actually rigging elections through voter suppression.
Here’s how it works: you convince voters that voter fraud is a problem (it isn’t) and use that nonexistent “fraud” to pass laws that make it difficult for college students, elderly people, and poor people to register to vote. Combine difficulty registering to vote with a reduction in polling places and restrictions on early voting (Kentucky doesn’t even have no-excuse early voting) and you have a Republican recipe for making sure “their” voters are the most likely to get to the polls.
So, while voter fraud doesn’t exist, voter suppression certainly does and it’s coming to Kentucky and Washington, DC. Here’s what it will look like:
- Repealing the motor voter law (this allows people to register to vote at their motor vehicle departments)
- Requiring ID in all federal elections
- Requiring a birth certificate or passport to register to vote
- Restricting the time and place for people to vote
Again, all of this will happen based on—forgive the easy pun—Trumped-up allegations of nonexistent voter fraud.
Instead of making it more difficult and expensive to register to vote and more time-consuming and inconvenient to cast a ballot, we can instead insist that our policymakers pass laws making it easier for everyone to participate in our democratic process. Kentucky once led the country in election reform, adopting one of the first computerized voter databases in the nation. We can do it again. Here are three things that our representatives could do this year to expand rather than restrict voting rights in Kentucky:
First, Kentucky should adopt universal vote-by-mail (UVBM). Three states—Oregon, Colorado, and Washington—already conduct all of their elections by mail-in ballot. For the state, there are a number of benefits. UVBM is safer and more secure than having polling places. It also creates a verifiable paper trail. It’s also less expensive while making it easier for state officials to maintain the voter roll. For voters, it’s more convenient. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that voter turnout increases when you allow people to vote from the comfort of their kitchen tables.
Second, if we cannot pass UVBM, our legislators can repeal the restrictions on absentee voting to allow everyone to vote within a couple weeks of the election if they want to.
Finally, Governor Bevin should honor his commitment to the automatic restoration of voting rights for former felons. Kentucky is one of three states that does not automatically restore voting rights to citizens who have served their time. Currently, more than 250,000 Kentuckians cannot vote because of this prohibition. Governor Bevin has claimed to support restoring voting rights, but has actually processed exactly zero citizens’ applications to vote again.
Unfortunately, voting rights restrictions are likely to be coming to Kentucky. If not from Washington, then from Frankfort. As a community, we should be deeply suspicious of a party’spolicies and commitment to participatory democracy when that party a) lies to b) justify unnecessary legislation that c) makes it more difficult for people to vote. These are the actions of a party that knows it cannot win when everyone votes.
As citizens, we must reject the leaders who enact policies that erode the very foundations of our democracy. Restrictions on voting distort our representation and damage our republic. This damage, once done, will be hard to undo. We cannot allow it in Kentucky and, indeed, can do more to make it easier, more secure, and less expensive for everyone to participate in our democracy.