Voter Access Remains a Top Concern Before Election Day

By: - October 31, 2018 12:00 am

People register and cast their ballots during early voting at a polling place in Charlotte, North Carolina. Registration purges and voter ID laws have been a big concern this election season. Chuck Burton/The Associated Press

Less than a week before Election Day, one of the biggest stories surrounding the midterms is accusations of voter suppression across the country as state and county elections offices move to purge dormant voters, curtail some early voting sites and impose new voter ID requirements.

Many of the changes disproportionately impact minority voters.

National attention has focused on Georgia, where the state’s chief elections official, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, is the Republican nominee for governor. His opponent, Democrat Stacey Abrams, has accused him of trying to suppress the vote of minorities by purging voters from registration databases and putting new registrations in limbo.

Since 2012, Kemp has purged 1.4 million voter registrations — 670,000 purges just in 2017, according to the Associated Press. Georgia purges people from voter rolls for moving or not voting over several elections.

But separate investigations found that Kemp’s office purged 107,000 voters for not voting, American Public Media reported, and as many as 340,000 voters even though they didn’t actually move, an analysis for the nonprofit Palast Investigative Fund found.

Further, earlier this month the Associated Press reported Kemp held up 53,000 new voter registrations, most of which are for minorities. Georgia requires voting records exactly match information on file at the state’s Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration.

Kemp has denied repeatedly that he is trying to suppress the minority vote, with his spokesman telling the Associated Press this month that “pending” voters can still cast ballots with proper identification.

Earlier this year, several polling places in majority-black counties in the state were shuttered because of worries they didn’t meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements; other locations that officials considered closing remained open after widespread criticism.

But the story isn’t just in Georgia.

In Kansas, local election officials in Ford County moved Dodge City’s one polling location out of town, citing construction. Voters in the majority Latino town, population 27,000, would have to cross a state highway and a set of train tracks, and would have no bus route to get to the polling location. Local officials have rejected American Civil Liberties Union complaints about the polling place, saying the change was not racially motivated but instead driven by costs.

Kansas already is in the national spotlight because of Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who was vice chairman of President Donald Trump’s defunct election integrity commission and is a fierce defender of strict voting policies.

Kobach is also running for governor this year. The state closed more than 100 polling places in recent years, according to the Wichita Eagle, although the number of registered voters rose by some 46,000.

In Texas, officials in two counties last week decided to expand early voting on the campuses of Texas State University and Prairie View A&M University after students threatened to sue over voter access. Prairie View A&M is a historically black university.

After some Texas voters complained machines were changing their votes, Keith Ingram, the state’s director of elections, blamed user error and warned voters to double-check their selections before casting a ballot.

In North Dakota, some Native Americans are having a more difficult time voting because of a strict voter ID law that doesn’t accept most tribal IDs or P.O. Box addresses. The Supreme Court upheld the law in September, leaving tribes to race to help thousands of potential Native American voters.

And in North Carolina, Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a proponent of creating a voter ID law in the state, stirred controversy when he released a video with step-by-step instructions showing how groups could commit voter fraud. The state GOP director, Dallas Woodhouse, told the video was a public service announcement showing voters the potential for fraud.

Critics of strict voting laws say several key gubernatorial and senatorial races could be decided because of registration purges, limited early voting hours and voter ID laws.

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Matt Vasilogambros
Matt Vasilogambros

Matt Vasilogambros covers voting rights, gun laws and Western climate policy for Stateline. He lives in San Diego, California.