It is a sad irony that as we celebrate our ancestors’ independence from taxation without representation, our state and national leaders are working to impose the very same tyranny on us, the current citizens of the United States of America.
President Trump has convened the Orwellian-named “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” ostensibly to investigate voter fraud, which every legitimate election expert says is so rare it’s almost non-existent. To lead this farcical endeavor, Trump named Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a man who has already been rebuked and fined by the courts for the mass disenfranchisement of voters in his state.
Despite its name, election integrity is not on the commission’s menu. Voter suppression is.
And now we learn that our Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson is playing along. While leaders in other states — including some Republicans — are telling Trump to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico,” Michigan’s Republican leaders are complying, to the detriment of us all.
Gov. Rick Snyder has been silent on the issue. And Johnson says she won’t release “personal” information, but the fact is that even basic information can be misused if that is the goal. And make no mistake: That is definitely the goal.
How do we know this? First, the commission is ignoring the extremely serious privacy and security concerns involved in building a massive voter database that includes such information as your full name, birth date, address, political party affiliation, voting history, the last four digits of your social security number, and more. Security experts say this mass of data will be a treasure trove for hackers, identity thieves and stalkers. It’s downright dangerous to your personal and financial security.
It’s also dangerous to our country’s security, as it provides more data for hackers in hostile nations like Russia to mine and employ in new schemes to undermine our national elections. But Trump is pushing ahead with this commission despite being warned of the security risks.
Second, using Kobach’s own history as a guide, we can conclude that the data assembled by the commission will be used to make false accusations of voter fraud, and those falsehoods will provide the justification for purging voter rolls of legitimate voters. Given this history, it would be foolish to see Trump’s elections commission as anything but another attempt at voter suppression — one more far-reaching and dangerous than anything we’ve seen yet.
Third and most importantly, it’s important to step back and look at the big picture to understand why this is happening.
The party currently controlling the presidency, the U.S. House and the Senate, and here in Michigan all branches of government, is funded by a network of billionaires including the Koch brothers and the DeVoses, whose goal certainly seems to be to suppress the majority in order to shift more money to the wealthiest few. For the latest example, look no further than the House and Senate healthcare bills, which throw 23 million people off health insurance in order to give a $33 billion tax cut to the wealthiest 400 Americans.
As Nancy MacLean, author of a new book on the Kochs’ brand of libertarianism, noted recently in Slate:
“This is a vast and interconnected and not honest operation… The reality is that they are gerrymandering with a vengeance, to a degree we’ve never seen before in our history; they’re practicing voter suppression in a way we’ve not seen since Reconstruction; they are smashing up labor unions under fake pretenses, not telling people that they actually do want to destroy workers’ ability to organize collectively …
They’re doing a lot of things for strategic reasons and not being honest with the public about it… These wealthy donors that Charles Koch has convened are deeply hostile to the model of government that has prevailed in the United States and in many other countries for a century.”
That is the endgame.
So as we get back to our routines following the 4th of July holiday, let’s resolve to keep resisting and fighting the efforts by Republican leaders to silence the voices of the majority of Americans. Call Gov. Rick Snyder, call Ruth Johnson, call Attorney General Bill Schuette, call your U.S. senators and representatives and tell them it is unacceptable to legitimize this anti-democratic witch hunt by participating in any way. If Trump’s people really want the pieces of data that are public, Johnson should make them work hard for it. She should tell them to file a Freedom of Information request, and charge them exhorbitantly, like Schuette advises government officials to do.
And she should make it clear that voter fraud is not actually a thing in Michigan.
We need leaders who will stand up to the tyranny of President Trump and his billionaire supporters and fight to expand voting rights, not suppress them. Our democracy depends on it.