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The new GOP 'National Ballot Security Task Force' is ready to harass voters

While the media devotes much hand-wringing to Republican vulnerability in this November’s election because of abortion, virtually no attention is paid to what’s been that party’s primary electoral strategy since the 1960s: preventing citizens from voting.

This year, it appears, voter purges, signature challenges, and election worker intimidation are how the GOP thinks they can overcome America’s distaste for their support of criminalized abortion.

In the run-up to New Jersey’s 1981 gubernatorial election, Republicans in that state put together what they called the National Ballot Security Task Force. They recruited hundreds of off-duty cops and private security guards, arming them with guns, walkie-talkies, and armbands that said “Task Force.” Large signs were posted that said:


In slightly smaller print, the posters referenced state laws about voter eligibility and then proclaimed, in bold type, “$1,000 Reward for information leading to arrest and conviction of persons violating New Jersey election law” along with a voter fraud tip line phone number.

READ: A neuroscientist explains why Trump’s criminal trials will strengthen his support

White voters in New Jersey rarely encountered the task force: instead the vigilantes targeted majority-Black neighborhoods in “Newark, East Orange, Bridgeton, Vineland, and locations throughout Mercer and Atlantic counties.”

When Black or Hispanic voters showed up to vote, the Task Force officers would stop them before they entered the polling place, asking to see their voter registration card and ID. Without explanation, but with the implied violence of police power, thousands of voters of color were simply told that their registrations were “no longer valid” and turned away.

The effort was so successful it handed victory to the Republican candidate, Thomas Kean, by 1,797 votes out of 2,317,239 cast in the race.

In response to that, Democrats went to court and got a restraining order against Republicans. In 2018, however, the GOP sued and got that overturned: they’re now free to repeat their strategy.

The lesson of that experience hasn’t been lost on Donald Trump and his campaign. He lost the election of 2020 to Joe Biden by a mere 81,000 votes out of a total 159,633,396 cast. Biden’s margin in Pennsylvania was about 80,000 votes, Arizona a shade over 10,000 votes, Georgia nearly 12,000 votes, and Wisconsin around 20,000 votes, a nationwide electoral college margin of victory representing a mere .0005 percent.

If those numbers are repeated, shifting a few hundred votes in a few hundred strategic polling places, it could hand the election this fall to Trump, and his people know it.

As election attorney Marc Elias keeps pointing out, this is a genuine threat to American democracy that Republicans are intent on pursuing. And this time they’re not just going after voters; election workers are also in GOP crosshairs.

Nevada, for example, has a law that makes it a felony crime for anybody:

“[T]o use or threaten or attempt to use any force, intimidation, coercion, violence, restraint or undue influence with the intent to interfere with the performance of the duties of any elections official relating to an election; or retaliate against any elections official for performing duties relating to an election.”

So, Republicans in Nevada launched a lawsuit to void the law.

Similarly, the Arizona Free Enterprise Club has sued that state to prevent enforcement of the state’s election regulations, specifically including rules that say:

— “Any activity by a person with the intent or effect of threatening, harassing, intimidating, or coercing voters (or conspiring with others to do so),
— “Aggressive behavior, such as raising one’s voice or taunting a voter or poll worker,
— “Using threatening, insulting or offensive language to a voter or poll worker,
— “Following voters or poll workers coming to or leaving a voting location, including to or from their vehicles,
— “Questioning, photographing or videotaping voters or poll workers in a harassing or intimidating manner, including when the voter or poll worker is entering or leaving the polling location.”

Minnesota has a Democracy for the People Act which makes it a crime to hit voters with “materially false statements” or “to impede or prevent another person from exercising the right to vote.” It also says that partisans may not disseminate false information about “the qualifications for or restrictions on voter eligibility at an election; and threats to physical safety associated with casting a ballot.”

So, of course, a rightwing group affiliated with the Minnesota GOP, the Minnesota Voters Alliance, has challenged the law in a lawsuit.

Expect to see similar efforts in every swing state. As reporters for The Washington Post noted six weeks ago:

“The new leadership at the RNC has discussed a broader effort over the coming months to challenge voter identification and signature verification rules that were put into place for the 2020 election.
“‘The RNC’s new posture as it relates to litigation is much more offensive and much less defensive,’ LaCivita said in the interview.”

As USA Today reported two weeks ago:

“Republicans say they will mobilize more than 100,000 people in battleground states to ensure ‘transparency and fairness’ in the 2024 election, an announcement criticized by some as risking potential voter intimidation.”

And they’re not looking for your average neighborhood Republican in a business suit with a clean-shaven face. As TIME magazine reported:

“Right-wing extremist groups, including QAnon, Proud Boys, Boogaloos and so-called militia groups, have all called for a physical presence at polling places, says Frank Figliuzzi, the FBI’s former counterintelligence director. ‘The mobilization has already occurred,’ he says. ‘The specter of people who are violent in nature and have violent agendas, and often come armed with long guns is becoming a very real possibility.’”

Republicans are also ready for any federal oversight of their nefarious practices. In the 2022 election, the Biden Administration tried to place federal election observers in 24 states: Republican secretaries of state in Florida and Missouri blocked them altogether. Expect that practice to spread to every Red state this fall.

In addition to potentially intimidating voters and election officials, Republicans are counting on Democrats to continue to heavily vote via mail while telling GOP voters to always show up in person. They’ve rolled out a program of “election watchers” to spot mail-in ballots where the signature deviates even slightly from the one on the voter’s voter registration record. The GOP calls it “strict signature matching.”

Because signatures change over time and often vary a lot when people are in a hurry, this is low-hanging fruit for the GOP. All the “monitors” have to do is claim that, in their opinion, a signature doesn’t match and the ballot goes into the “provisional” pile and won’t be counted until or unless the voter shows up in person at the county elections office. Most people will never even know their ballot was challenged and not counted.

Florida rolled this out statewide for the 2020 election, leading The Washington Post to note:

“As Floridians rush to vote in the presidential election, mail ballots from Black, Hispanic and younger voters are being flagged for problems at a higher rate than they are for other voters, potentially jeopardizing their participation in the race for the country’s largest battleground state. …
“As of Friday, election officials had set aside ballots from Black and Hispanic voters at two times the rate of ballots from White voters, according to an analysis by University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith. For people younger than 24, the rate was more than four times what it was for those 65 and older.”

Meanwhile, the GOP in Texas is quietly recruiting 10,000 white volunteers “courageous” enough to go into Black and Hispanic polling places and confront people trying to vote.

As Jessica Corbett reported for Common Dreams:

“Common Cause Texas on Thursday shared a leaked video of a Harris County GOP official discussing plans to ‘build an army’ of 10,000 election workers and poll watchers, including some who ‘will have the confidence and courage’ to go into Black and Brown communities to address alleged voter fraud that analyses show does not actually exist.”

And none of this begins to describe the massive purges of voter rolls that are hitting residents of Blue cities in Red states as you read these words. Alexandra Berzon and Nick Corasaniti wrote for last month’s New York Times:

“A network of right-wing activists and allies of Donald J. Trump is quietly challenging thousands of voter registrations in critical presidential battleground states, an all-but-unnoticed effort that could have an impact in a close or contentious election.”

A shocking 2023 study from Demos lays out the dimensions of this voter purge crisis-of-democracy brought to us by an increasingly desperate GOP.

“Between the close of registration for the 2020 general election and the close of registration for the 2022 general election, states reported removing 19,260,000 records from their voter registration rolls. This was equal to 8.5% of the total number of voters who were registered in the United States as of the close of registration for the 2022 general election.”

Additionally, 17 million voters were purged in the two years leading up to the 2018 election, fully ten percent of America’s voting population, according to the Brennan Center.

Given that the most radical purges took place among Black and youth voters in Republican-controlled Red states, that 8.5 percent “national average” of voters purged could well be two or three times that percentage in the states where these purges were concentrated.

The Brennan Center added, most of the purge activity was taking place in former Confederate Red states that — before five Republicans on the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in their 2013 Shelby County decision — had to have purges pre-cleared by the federal government:

“The median purge rate over the 2016–2018 period in jurisdictions previously subject to preclearance [Red states] was 40 percent higher than the purge rate in jurisdictions that were not covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act [Blue states].”

Republicans know that most Americans aren’t fond of their efforts to criminalize abortion, reduce access to birth control, pack the courts, privatize Medicare, gut Social Security, reduce billionaire’s taxes, and block enforcement of antitrust and pollution laws.

So, as described, they plan to cheat.

It’s probably too late for Democrats to challenge most of the voter purges and it’ll be almost impossible to prove bad faith when they begin flagging mail-in ballots from Blue cities where they claim the signatures don’t match. The fix, in other words, is in, which is probably why so many Republican officials seem confident that Trump will be our president next year.

At this late stage, the only strategy that can possibly overcome this election rigging by the GOP is for Democrats to turn out in unprecedented, overwhelming numbers. If you live in a Red state, check your voter registration every month and make sure everybody you know is similarly registered to vote. And, on election day, plan to take the day off to help get out the vote.

If we fail, this country will rapidly become unrecognizable.

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