Not even Richard Nixon tried to steal our votes. The one thing that truly belongs to each one of us, our vote, is exactly what Trump and the Russians conspired to steal from us during the 2016 presidential election.
The right to vote and have your vote counted is what the Russia investigation is all about. The votes of American citizens were the target of Russian intelligence, and it was those votes Donald Trump wanted to influence every time he opened his mouth and said “I love WikiLeaks” during his campaign. The whole sordid chapter was about one thing: votes.
Voting is the bedrock of American democracy. You know who doesn’t get to vote? The subjects of a king or a queen in a monarchy. We had a revolution about 240 years ago to establish our distaste with that system.
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It took passage of the 15th Amendment in 1870 giving freed slaves the right to vote; the 19th Amendment in 1920 giving women the right to vote; the Voting Rights Act of 1965 providing protection to minorities in registration and voting; and the 26th Amendment in 1971 extending voting rights to those 18 to 21 to finally get the right to vote more or less right.
You don’t have to be rich to vote. You don’t have to own property, or have a job, or have a diploma proving that you’ve been educated. You don’t have to be white, or be married, or be a heterosexual, or otherwise prove that you fit in to American society. You don’t have to have been born in this country to vote. You don’t have to take an oath, or subscribe to a particular religious belief, or be of a certain political persuasion.
All you need to be is a citizen of one of our states or territories, and you can walk into a polling place in your precinct and vote in every election we hold, all the way from who’s on the local school board, to who gets to enforce the laws as sheriff, to who is the president of the United States.
Voting is supposed to be the great leveler among us. Every American has the right to vote, but you get only one of them. You can’t go out and buy another vote for yourself, like you can buy another shirt or another car. Nope, all you’ve got is one vote. Your vote belongs to you, and under our system of laws, nobody is supposed to be able to take it away from you.
Except that’s not the way it works. Two lawsuits were brought by conservative legal activists close to the Republican Party that have severely cut into the rights of citizens to vote, and what that vote is worth, once it is counted. When they reached the Supreme Court, they were decided on partisan grounds, with all the justices appointed by Republican presidents voting one way, and justices appointed by Democratic presidents voting the other.
In Shelby County v Holder, the court in a narrow, 5-4 decision greatly limited the enforcement provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, throwing the door open to all kinds of mischief by states that had had their voting laws closely monitored because of past discrimination against minorities. The Republican controlled governments of Texas and Mississippi, whose voting laws had been subject to pre-clearance by the Department of Justice, took only hours to pledge that they would enforce voter ID laws. Alabama and North Carolina, also under firm Republican control, quickly passed gerrymandered redistricting that discriminated against black voters. The Republican state government of North Carolina ended same-day voter registration, out-of-precinct voting, and pre-registration of teenagers approaching their 18th birthdays.
All in all, nearly half of the states in this country now have laws that restrict voting rights in some way. All of them have Republican-controlled legislatures and Republican governors. Several states have tried to pass laws requiring proof of citizenship to vote. Others have cut back early voting days and reduced the number of voting precincts in areas that are heavily Democratic, leading to long lines at polling places. Republican legislators in some states were actually quoted saying that the voting laws they passed were intended to make it more difficult for minorities and Democrats to vote.
The other Supreme Court decision that diluted the power of the vote in this country was Citizens United v FEC which unleashed the expenditure of big money in our elections. In yet another partisan 5-4 decision, Citizens United allowed unlimited expenditure of money in elections by corporations, unions and non-profits so long as the money was spent “independent” of the campaigns of specific candidates. According to CBS News, $6.8 billion was spent on the election of 2016, including some $2.6 billion on the presidential election. It is projected that the midterm elections will cost more than $4 billion, according to Marketwatch.
While you’re out there digging around in your files for the documents necessary to vote in your state this year, billions of dollars will be spent by wealthy individuals and corporations trying to influence your vote. There will be few restrictions on how that money can be spent. Corporations and rich campaign donors can tell any lie they want to tell in their support of their chosen candidates for office. Lots of money was spent in 2016 putting out disinformation about voting on election day, directing voters to the wrong precincts, for example, or giving the wrong times, dates, and places for pre-voting.
Some of the millions of dollars that will be spent on the midterm elections this year will be spent by a foreign power hostile to this country and our way of life: Russia. CNBC reported last week that “The leaders of four U.S. intelligence agencies reaffirmed at the White House on Thursday the ‘pervasive’ and ‘ongoing’ threats from foreign actors, including Russia, to interfere in upcoming U.S. elections.”
The same national security officials have remained steadfast in their conviction that Russia tried to influence the presidential election of 2016 on the side of Donald Trump. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 25 Russian nationals, including 12 military intelligence officers, for interfering in the election of 2016. The Russians spent over a million dollars on phony ads against Hillary Clinton, and an unknown amount of money hacking into Democratic National Committee and other emails and distributing those hacked emails in an attempt to damage the Clinton campaign.
Russian intelligence officers, acting for the Russian government, also hacked into the voting systems of at least 18 states and probably three more, according to a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Russian effort against state election systems was “unprecedented” and “coordinated” according to the Senate report. Bloomberg reported that “In at least six states, Russian hackers conducted malicious access attempts on voting-related websites, and in a small number of states, they gained access to ‘restricted elements of election infrastructure.’ In those states, they were ‘in a position to, at a minimum, alter or delete voter registration data’ but not manipulate individual votes or total tallies.”
You know what Russian intelligence officials and others intended to do? They wanted to influence American voters and dilute the power of their votes. That was the purpose of the “dirt” on Hillary Clinton the Russians advertised to the Trump campaign they had. They told George Papadopoulos, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. about the “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. So far, 12 Russian intelligence officers have been indicted on multiple felony counts for gathering and distributing that “dirt.”
When Russians approached the Trump campaign with news of the “dirt” in the form of “thousands of emails” they had on Hillary, what did the Trump campaign do? They welcomed them with open arms. They didn’t call the FBI and tell them the Russians had stolen Democratic Party emails. They didn’t call New York law enforcement authorities who had jurisdiction over Trump Tower, where one of the Russian approaches took place. They didn’t report the theft of those emails to anyone because as soon as they knew about them, they began using the “dirt” on Hillary provided by the Russians to defeat her.
The presidential election of 2016 was swung to Donald Trump by just 70,000 votes in three states: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. If we don’t get out there and defend our right to vote, it will happen again. They steal votes with voter suppression laws. They steal votes with billions of dollars of campaign spending by corporations and wealthy Republican donors. They steal votes by cooperating with hostile foreign powers like Russia who are seeking to undermine our democracy. They steal votes by refusing to spend federal dollars to defend our state and local voting systems.
They don’t want to win elections fair and square. They want to steal them by stealing our votes.