Democrats demand a price for Charlottesville: Trump must disband his voter fraud commission

Democrats seize on major voting rights victories to demand real concessions following Charlottesville

By Sophia Tesfaye
August 25, 2017 8:58AM (UTC)
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(AP/Evan Vucci)

As Donald Trump is entangled in intraparty warfare and facing a complete rebuke from nearly every corner of American society for his response to the violence Charlottesville, Democrats in Washington are gearing up to seize upon the moment. Building off the momentum of recent court victories on the issue of voting rights, Senate Democrats are now attempting to force Republicans into a substantial denunciation of racism -- beyond Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric.

For the sixth time this year -- and second just this week -- a federal court ruled on Thursday that Texas’ voter ID law and gerrymandered districts are “intentionally” discriminatory against voters of color. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a series of updates to Texas law designed to avert this outcome earlier this summer, but it was not enough. The state had spent at least $3.5 million defending the anti-democratic law before it was permanently blocked this week.


The most recent ruling against Texas Republicans’ voter-suppression scheme comes after federal courts have ruled against similar restrictions in North Carolina, Kansas and Wisconsin -- all states with GOP-controlled legislatures. But the discriminatory voter ID law has been mirrored by Republicans in more than 30 states, freed by the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling striking down core provisions of the Voting Rights Act. More than four years later, Democrats are hoping to seize on the president's diminished moral capacity to substantially push back on Republicans’ voter suppression efforts -- starting with the president’s sham “voter fraud prevention” commission.

"I have been encouraged to see a good number of my Republican colleagues in the Congress speak so strongly against the hateful agenda of the white supremacist, neo-Nazi movement," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.,  wrote in a blog post on Medium on Thursday. "But we need more than just words — we also need action.” Schumer called on Trump to rescind his executive order creating the panel to investigate voter fraud, arguing that "after Charlottesville, it's time to end the assault on voting rights."

Trump’s Election Integrity Commission — which has already faced major resistance from state officials of both parties — was seemingly set up in response to his failure to win a majority of voters during his electoral victory. Without a shred of evidence, Trump has amplified Republicans’ spurious claims of widespread voter fraud. "They are a ruse," Schumer wrote Thursday about such claims. "Their only intention is to disenfranchise voters. This is how the appalling failure to use the right words and stand up to hate in the aftermath of Charlottesville is made real in the form of policy; they are two edges of the same sword.


"If the president wants to truly show that he rejects the discrimination agenda of the white supremacist movement, he will rescind the executive order that created this commission," Schumer continued. "And if the president does not act,” the minority leader urged Congress to shut down the commission "through one of the must-pass legislative vehicles” that will be considered next month.”

Several must-pass bills are on the table for Congress in September, including legislation to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a government shutdown.

Schumer also called for “a series of public hearings on the status of voting rights in America,” including testimony from Kris Kobach, Kansas’ notorious secretary of state, who was tapped by Trump as vice chair of the voter fraud commission.


Democrats also hope to use the aftermath of Charlottesville to pressure Republicans on the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Recent federal rulings against Texas’ discriminatory practices will likely force the Supreme Court to revisit its 2011 ruling that freed the Lone Star State from receiving pre-clearance from the Department of Justice for any new voting restrictions.

“Coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote in his controversial decision, and “‘current burdens’ must be justified by ‘current needs.'” It is clear, despite what Roberts may think, that racial discrimination is both current and systemic. Texas, Democrats argue, provides the evidence and Charlottesville provides the opportunity to push back. 


Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's Deputy Politics Editor and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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