Crackdowns on potential voter fraud fuel worries about ballot access in November

Nine months after President Trump was forced to dissolve a panel charged with investigating voter fraud, GOP officials across the country are cracking down on what they describe as threats to voting integrity — moves that critics see as attempts to keep some Americans from casting ballots in November’s elections. In Georgia, election officials have suspended more than 50,000 applications to register to vote, most of them for black voters, under a rigorous Republican-backed law that requires personal information to exactly match driver’s license or Social Security records.

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In Texas, the state attorney general has prosecuted nearly three dozen individuals on charges of voter fraud this year, more than the previous five years combined. And in North Carolina, a U.S. attorney and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued subpoenas last month demanding that virtually all voting records in 44 counties be turned over to immigration authorities within weeks — a move that was delayed after objections from state election officials. “The myth of voter fraud is used by those who wish to curtail the right to vote of specific populations, usually minority voters,” said Ezra Rosenberg, an attorney for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a participant in the suit.

“Instead of thinking up schemes to stop people from voting, we should be doing everything in our power to make it easier for people to vote,” he added.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who enforces state election laws and is also the GOP gubernatorial nominee, said the focus on the suspended voter registrations is a crisis manufactured by his Democratic opponent. Numerous studies have found no evidence of large-scale voter fraud in the United States. But the specter of fraud was raised repeatedly by Trump after the 2016 election, when he claimed without evidence that millions of undocumented immigrants voted illegally for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. Soon after entering office, Trump created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, chaired by Vice President Pence, which was charged with examining claims of voter fraud, improper registration and voter suppression.

The commission was disbanded in January after states refused to turn over requested data and filed lawsuits to block its demands, citing voter privacy. Trump blamed states for refusing to cooperate and promised to continue the effort within his administration. In a tweet at the time, Trump said the commission “fought hard” to investigate allegations of voter abuses “because they know that many people are voting illegally. System is rigged, must go to Voter I.D.” Matt Dunlap, the Democratic secretary of state of Maine who served on Trump’s commission, said in an interview that he now views the effort as a sham. He accused Republicans of trying to gin up anti-immigration sentiment by falsely claiming that voting by undocumented immigrants is rampant.

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“It’s a dog whistle, no question about it,” Dunlap said. “Whenever we talk about illegal immigration, voter fraud, others taking something away from us — of course it’s a dog whistle.”

In Georgia, the issue is inflaming an already-hard-fought governor’s race, where Kemp is battling against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who would be the first female black governor. The Associated Press reported last week that 53,000 voter registrations in the state are on hold under the “exact match” verification process, which requires voter application information to precisely mirror a resident’s state or federal data on file. Even a hyphen out of place could prompt an application to be flagged by local elections officials and suspended. Nearly 70 percent of the registrations that have been frozen are those of African Americans, according to the AP.

“This is a publicity stunt that the media falls for year after year,” said Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state, noting that a similar exact match law was recently upheld in Florida by a federal appeals court.

“The 53,000 Georgians cited in their complaint can vote in the November 6th election,” she said. “Any claims to the contrary are politically motivated and utterly false.”

The controversy in North Carolina elicited a more bipartisan uproar, with Republicans and Democrats alike decrying the efforts of Robert Higdon Jr., the U.S. attorney for Eastern District of North Carolina and a Trump appointee, to secure millions of voting records from 44 counties in the eastern half of the state. Voter fraud prosecutions are also on the rise in Texas, where Attorney General Ken Paxton has expanded the number of investigators in his office focused on the issue and ramped up prosecutions. Paxton, who declined a request for an interview, last month touted a one-year jail sentence and deportation his office secured of a noncitizen charged with voter impersonation and voter fraud.

“Election integrity is a top priority for my office,” Paxton said in a statement at the time. “Anyone attempting to deprive the people of Texas of their voice in either state or federal elections will be brought to justice and penalized by the full extent of the law.”

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