Voter suppression is illegal, but is it a crime? Voter intimidation is a crime; threatening, coercing, or attempting either is punishable by fine, imprisonment for up to one year, or both. Voting illegally could get you sent to jail, depending on your color and who you were voting for.
Terri Lynn Rote, a white woman, was given two-years probation and a $750 fine for trying to vote twice for Donald Trump in Iowa. Crystal Mason, a black woman, was sentenced to 5-years in prison for attempting to vote illegally. Ms. Mason says she didn’t know she was ineligible to vote after her name was removed from the Texas voting rolls after a felony conviction for which she’d served her time. While voting illegally is definitely a crime, the only penalty for suppressing votes seems to be a greater likelihood of winning an election.
In a go big or go home strategy, Republicans in recent years have done all they could to suppress votes on a major scale. The Republican National Committee (RNC) was just freed from a Consent Decree forbidding them from coordinating with State Governments and Secretary’s of State to enforce their, “Ballot Security” programs which involved not so subtle intimidation of minority voters in crucial precincts. When Mike Pence announced in early 2016 the Republican Party would be performing that type of coordination he had to quickly renounce his statement and pretend it wasn’t true. That was before the Consent Decree was allowed to expire. Now Pence, Trump, Republican-controlled state governments, and Republican Secretary’s of State in Florida, Georgia, Kansas, and elsewhere are free to suppress away. From time to time they may be restrained by judges from imposing their will, but nobody is going to jail.
We just watched Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp use myriad strategies to suppress minority votes in his successful bid to become that state’s Governor. Despite being ordered by judges to halt several efforts, nothing was done to restore the rights of the hundreds of thousands of voters he’d managed to remove from the rolls during his term as Secretary of State. His efforts paled when compared to the millions Governor Rick Scott was able to remove in Florida. In Kansas, Dodge City residents who are primarily Hispanic saw their only polling location moved out-of-town to a suburban location with no bus stop, making it harder once again for minorities to vote.
Republicans are suppressing votes out of necessity. The Party is dwindling as a percentage of the population and their ability to win elections depends more and more on their effectiveness in suppressing votes. Historically, Democrats have been perhaps more guilty of voter suppression and intimidation but this cycle belongs to the Republicans. They do it because it’s effective, and the penalty is not severe.
So, why isn’t voter suppression something that leads to prison and excruciating financial pain? I don’t recall even any attempts to impose the kinds of penalties to give people pause when coming up with the strategies that prevent people from voting. Can it be that Republican and Democrat legislators are complicit in this scheme which keeps an ever-growing minority population from exerting more control in elective government? I’m going to give that question a little more thought.
If there are no laws imposing the types of penalties to significantly reduce voter suppression. It must be because legislatures don’t want them to exist. Instead of playing whack-a-mole when new suppressive laws and policies pop up. Let’s make real laws against voter suppression and start sending people to prison when they do so. If Cynthia Mason can get 5-years for trying to exercise a right she didn’t know she’d lost. Someone taking away the rights of hundreds of thousands ought to get life in prison. Bet it would stop then!