For Democrats looking to win in 2020, the prospect of voter suppression is a huge, ominous cloud on the horizon. Republicans have a varied and powerful toolbox at their disposal when it comes to suppressing Democratic voters, and they’ve used these tools to great effect.
One of those tools is purging the voter rolls, which Republicans argue is necessary to prevent the nonexistent problem of voter fraud. This happened in Georgia in 2018, where 107,000 voters were purged ahead of the election, which was overseen by the office of the Republican who was then running for governor, Brian Kemp. And, according to a new report published by the Brennan Center, voter purges are continuing at a high rate.
17 million voters were purged from voter rolls between 2016 and 2018, unevenly distributed across the country. Indiana purged a shocking 22 percent of its voters in this time period, and Georgia purged 10 percent. Meanwhile, California—the most populous state, with a highly transient population—purged just under 3 percent.
Even more troubling is that the study found counties that had previously been subject to restrictions under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, before the Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the law, purged voters at a much higher rate. Those counties purged 40 percent more voters between 2016 and 2018 than counties that hadn’t been subject to pre-clearance, which had required them to clear any potential changes to election law with the Justice Department. Meanwhile, the median number of voters purged in counties that weren’t subject to pre-clearance actually decreased a little.
Fixing any one of the massive problems facing America, from climate change to healthcare to inequality as a whole, must involve decimating the political power of Republicans. The trouble is that Republicans have done a marvelous job of gutting democracy and stacking it in favor of themselves, yet Democrats need to win under these conditions to get anywhere close to reversing this damage.
It is wonderful that Congress took Hamilton Nolan’s advice and held hearings on voter suppression, but it’s also hard to ignore the feeling that Democrats ought to be shouting about nothing else—not necessarily just the 500 presidential candidates, although them too, but the entire party and its infrastructure. Big Democratic donors, if we’re going to have them, should be spending hundreds of millions on voter registration. (Maybe Tom Steyer could do this instead of a vanity run for president.) Yet Democrats are running behind Republicans on voter registrations in many states.
With conditions like these, Democrats are never going to win the majorities they need, or at least the ones they deserve relative to the actual political beliefs of the population. It’s hard to imagine anything we’re talking about happening, in other words, without fixing this first. But it feels like more evidence that something big has to shift—and something unprecedented has to happen—or else we’re all fucked forever.