Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. (Courtesy Photo)
“Absolutely, yes,” said Michigan Chronicle Senior Editor Keith Owens when asked if Jill Stein’s recount quest fueled Republican efforts to pass strict Voter ID legislation in Michigan. Stein campaign officials, however, bristle at that notion.
Stein adamantly emphasized that eliminating any form of voter suppression is central to her quest to repair what she views as a broken electoral system leaving millions disenfranchised.
But in the opening days of the recount, many critics – while appreciating Stein’s motivations – argued that Stein’s decision to focus almost solely on potential hacking of voting systems, and framing it as an “election integrity” and “fraud” issue, may have clumsily given ammunition to Republican supporters of voter ID and other voter suppression measures.
“We must remember that recounts do not capture the vast numbers of voters who were outright denied the right to vote because of voter suppression,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. “Voter suppression was the real culprit of this election cycle. Our work makes painfully clear that lawmakers are bent on using voter suppression as a tool to peel off voters from the margins in our elections.”
In this 2016 cycle, the first election in 50 years without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, the extent of voter suppression’s impact is still being assessed. However, there is real evidence showing an array of vote mitigation and voters disenfranchisement tactics in key states, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin where Stein is spearheading recount efforts. In Milwaukee, for example, Wisconsin’s rigid voter ID law contributed to 40,000 less ballots counted this cycle than in 2012. Illegal requests for voter ID in Pennsylvania discouraged countless numbers of voters.
That pattern is what any revisitation effort should focus on. Yet, University of Kentucky election law expert Joshua Douglas believes the recount created “unnecessary frenzy,” referencing a complex recount messaging that failed to highlight proven voter suppression in key states. This may, Douglas asserts, have given ammunition to Republican lawmakers claiming widespread voter fraud when there is little evidence of any large-scale problem existing.
That may have been what happened as Stein’s recount efforts in Detroit and Wayne County (majority Black areas) unearthed a box containing only 50 ballots when 306 were expected. The next day, in a 57-50 party-line vote, the GOP-led Michigan House of Representatives passed a rigid voter identification measure. “This lemon of a recount may turn into lemonade from the stand point of helping us firm up the integrity of the voting process,” State Sen. Patrick Colbert (R-Canton) told The Detroit News.
That’s what worries Douglas. “This is a solution in search of a problem. In-person impersonation, the only kind of voter fraud that a strict ID law would prevent, is virtually nonexistent,” he told the AFRO. “Yet we know that strict voter ID laws present an insurmountable hurdle for some people to vote.”