1. Statement
  2. Voting & Elections

Voter Suppression, Not Voter Fraud, Threatens Election Integrity

By José Santos Woss, May 19, 2017

The President’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has a troubling potential to suppress the vote through unnecessary and potentially onerous restrictions.

The President has created an Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is the Vice Chair along with Vice President Mike Pence. The stated purpose of the President’s commission is to “inspire confidence in the integrity of the voting process” in federal elections. This commission operates under the premise that voter fraud is a serious problem. To solve this nonexistent problem they will likely recommend expansive controls and requirements to “protect” the integrity of elections. This is very concerning since the integrity of our elections is not in question.

The problem with our elections is that not enough people are participating because of systemic issues. The core of our problem is not voter fraud but confidence in democracy itself. Gerrymandering, partisanship, and the excessive influence of money in politics drive voters away. People feel that government does not work for them.

Quakers have charged us to promote equitable access for all citizens to participate in the political process. The nation is falling far, far short of this goal. As a result last year we saw less than 56% of the voting age population participate in our election. In the 2014 election turnout was a devastatingly low 36.4%, the lowest in 70 years.

The elevation of Kris Kobach is probably the most troubling sign of this commission’s purpose. Kris Kobach has defended the President’s unsubstantiated claim that “3-5 million illegals voted” last November. He was one of the principal architects of Arizona’s racially discriminatory SB1070 “papers please” bill requiring local law enforcement to verify citizenship status on the basis of race and appearance.

Mr. Kobach also devised the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck platform that has been found to return very high instances of “false positives” where legitimate voters were taken off of the registration rolls across several states. Normally, Secretaries of State are charged with supervising that elections run well and fairly at the state level. Kris Kobach has been sued for trying to suppress nearly 50,000 voters in his state.

Concerning the claims of voter fraud, a comprehensive study found that from 2000-2014 out of more than one billion (1,000,000,000) votes cast, only 31 instances of credible impersonation fraud existed.

Last November 135 million Americans cast their ballots, there were only four instances of voter fraud. In 2012 the Pennsylvania House Majority Leader claimed that voter ID would allow the GOP to win the state.

Active and informed citizen participation in the political and electoral process is essential to the proper functioning of government. Making it easier for as many U.S. citizens to vote by reducing impediments to the ballot box should be the paramount goal of elections at the state level. Our democracy can live up to its potential only if it ensures open access to public office and electoral processes.

France recently held elections where more than 75% voted for their next President. This historic low turnout is considerably higher than one of our highest elections. Last year we had nearly 89% of people registered to vote, but less than 56% of eligible voters chose to cast a ballot.

This commission is likely to become a very unfortunate endeavor resulting in recommendations producing barriers to the ballot box through unnecessary restrictions—essentially a voter suppression blueprint. It is very important to point out that most recently the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of a North Carolina voter ID case. This Fourth Circuit case struck down the NC voter ID law that found discriminatory restrictions targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

In this country black people were hung from trees, murdered, for daring to vote. Our history had a time when African Americans needed to count bubbles on a bar of soap to access the ballot box. This week the country universally, and rightfully, lauds the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was 60 years ago he delivered his “Give Us the Ballot” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial with civil rights leaders Ella Baker, Bayard Rustin (a notable “Friend” or Quaker), and many more. Voter suppression tactics disrespect his legacy and neglects our dark history of racism and oppression. This commission is serving in an advisory role.

Nevertheless, the elevation of someone with such a checkered past like Kris Kobach, and involving the office of the Vice President is very concerning. Without all of our voices in our democracy we fail to create a society with equity and justice for all. This official commission at the highest levels of government has the potential to substantiate voter suppression efforts across the country by state officials with the power to tighten the noose around democracy.

José Santos Woss

  • Legislative Manager, Criminal Justice and Election Integrity

José is the Legislative Manager for Criminal Justice and Election Integrity. He leads FCNL’s work on criminal justice reform, election integrity, and policing. He helps to lead the Interfaith Criminal Justice Coalition, an alliance of more than 40 national faith groups advocating to end mass incarceration.