Even as Democrats lost special Congressional elections in Kansas, Montana, Georgia and South Carolina in recent months, many observers point out the margins in these reliably red seats were unusually slim.
While not electoral slam dunks – and, obviously, leaving Democratic rank and file demoralized – many analysts see the visible makings of an anti-Trump voter wave for 2018 that could eventually put Democrats in a prime position to retake the House of Representatives.
The special elections were all in heavily red Congressional districts, particularly Kansas and Montana where the Black and Brown populations were nearly non-existent, and places where Donald Trump best Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election (albeit barely). But political analysts are quick to point to the president’s stubborn unpopularity as a barometer of what 2018 could become for Republicans. Some, like University of Virginia Center for Politics’ Alan Abramowitz, simply point to history as a somewhat reliable predictor of how that shakes out.
“The president’s party almost always loses House seats in midterm elections — this has been true in 16 of 18 midterm elections since World War II,” notes Abramowitz. “[T]wo other predictors go a long way toward explaining seat swing in midterm elections: which party controls the White House and the number of seats held by each party prior to the election. The president’s party matters because, regardless of whatever else is going on, voters tend to turn against the party in the White House in midterm elections.”
However, an emerging point of view amongst some political observers suggests relatively optimistic forecasts of Democratic Congressional midterm gains aren’t considering Republican efforts at suppressing key Democratic voting constituencies such as the Black vote.
Quietly, Republicans worry heavily about the likelihood of Democratic midterm gains, especially given perceived voter displeasure with their standard bearer (even though his foundational base is still intact). But, as a result of that anxiousness, voting rights advocates see a marked acceleration of GOP-triggered voter suppression strategies: more recently, the White House has instigated a fresh new charge to eliminate hints of Democratic electoral advantages in 2018 and 2020 through its curiously named “Election Integrity Commission” otherwise known as the Voter Fraud Commission.
On the surface, the Commission is innocently characterized as an effort to restore confidence in the U.S. election system by protecting voter rolls from abuse and fraud. It bolsters claims by the president, personally spurned by numerical loss of the popular vote in 216, that then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s lead in that category was due to widespread electoral double dipping and implied opposition trickery at the polls.
But critics argue the Commission is nothing more than the latest in a years-long bid at minority voter purging by Kansas gubernatorial candidate and former Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a suspected white nationalist who is also aligned heavily with anti-immigration groups. Kobach’s first national “anti-fraud” effort was the creation of the Interstate Crosscheck System which led to the purging of more than 1.2 million voter registrations before the 2016 elections. The number of Crosscheck states have increased from only three in 2005 at its inception to now 29 to date – with Pennsylvania being one of the largest states still participating.
The most recent move by the Commission, a controversial wholesale request of all 50 states to submit the complete personal profiles of more than 200 million registered voters, was sharply rebuked by an ideological cross-section of nervous critics, from voting rights advocates to Republican Secretaries of State.
“The President’s Commission has quickly politicized its work by asking states for an incredible amount of voter data that I have, time and time again, refused to release,” was Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, a Republican, in a strongly worded rejection letter. “My response to the Commission is, you’re not going to play politics with Louisiana’s voter data, and if you are, then you can purchase the limited public information available by law, to any candidate running for office. That’s it.”
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, offered the same advice. “The right to vote is absolute and I have no confidence that you seek to bolster it,” said Wolf in a letter to Kobach. “Your request implies that your office may undertake a systematic effort to suppress the vote in Pennsylvania.”
Still, there was no word that Pennsylvania would be withdrawing or refusing to cooperate in the Kobach-created Crosscheck System. Nor was their word from other Crosscheck-participating states they would do the same. And Pennsylvania Democratic brass like state Democratic Party Chair Marcel Groen were, at last conversation with the Tribune through WURD’s Reality Check, had no knowledge of Crosscheck. Groen was, without notice, suddenly unavailable for a follow-up interview question about Crosscheck during a Wednesday segment on Reality Check.
As the Voter Fraud Commission controversy intensified, with 44 states refusing to comply with its mass voter roll request by the end of last week, voting rights advocates began mounting a series of legal challenges accusing the Commission – and its founder, Kobach – of violating federal law.
A joint letter from advocacy organizations United to Protect Democracy and the New York University’s Brennan Center argued the Commission was violating the Paperwork Reduction Act which places restrictions on how much information and what type of information federal agencies can demand from states.
“The PRA reflects a longstanding recognition that when agencies collect information from the public, they must do it in a way that balances legitimate governmental need with the burdens such collections may impose,” said UPD and Brennan last Monday. “To ensure that balance, the statute requires agencies to engage with the public before embarking on such collections. The Advisory Commission has plainly violated those requirements.”
Other groups, such as the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, are directly suing Kobach. Lawyers Committee Executive Director Kristen Clarke argues Kobach is violating the federal Hatch Act by publicizing his role as co-chair of the Commission with Vice President Mike Pence to enhance his 2018 Kansas gubernatorial bid.
“The Hatch Act’s central purpose is to prevent federal employees from using their official position for electoral purposes,” said Clarke. “We deem the President’s Election Integrity Commission to be a baseless tool to promote voter suppression and Mr. Kobach’s unlawful abuse of his role as head of the Commission for partisan ends only underscores the illegitimacy of the Commission itself.”
Meanwhile, Strategic Institute for Intersectional Policy Executive Director G.S. Potter warns that Democrats are completely unprepared for the GOP’s ramped up voter suppression for 2018. “The Republican party has very effectively used a combination of voter suppression techniques that have collectively resulted in 30–50 million suppressed voters … and the Democratic party has done nothing to counter these efforts,” cautions Potter. “Instead, the Democratic party has ignored their most loyal voting blocs in favor of focusing on unsuppressed voters.”