As a Texas native, I have witnessed many dark days in the fight to ensure voting rights for all people. The 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, overturned portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in historically discriminatory states and allowed those states to implement changes to election laws without any checks and balances. Four years later, President Trump and his administration have decided to create a commission to investigate the unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.

Most recently the Supreme Court agreed to take up a case known as Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, which will challenge an Ohio policy of removing inactive voters from registration rolls.  The court will review the case in its next term and this has the potential to set a precedent on other states’ voter purge policies.

Bernice Johnson

The minute the Supreme Court handed down its decision, states that previously needed preclearance—like Texas—saw their controversial voter ID laws go into effect with no federal oversight. States like Texas insisted on the necessity of voter ID laws to “protect the integrity of elections,” passing laws that disproportionately affect African-Americans, Latinos and poor people. It is well documented that voter fraud is not a major issue in elections, yet state legislatures have used this farce to justify heavy-handed and restrictive laws.  It is clear what their intent is, and it is shameful that our democracy has allowed the right to vote to be reduced to a mere pawn.

The right to vote is fundamental to our democratic system of government, and it is strengthened when every citizen participates.  Making false accusations of voter fraud when thus far state official across the country have disputed such claims does not provide stability or trust in our democratic system of government. The newest creation of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity by the current administration is playing into a false reality of a problem that does not exist. Unfortunately, taxpayers’ money will be invested in this commission’s investigation of voter fraud. Meanwhile, I question if it will address the true concerns that have existed for more than 50 years in our country – voter suppression.

This commission was birthed from the widespread claim by then President-elect Trump that voter fraud took place during the 2016 election because of the 3 – 5 million popular votes he lost to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Interestingly enough, reports from the Brennan Center for Justice found incident rates between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent of voter fraud. And the ACLU, voting rights advocacy groups, and Secretaries of State both Republican and Democrat have agreed voter fraud is not an issue, however what should be addressed is voter suppression.

At the heart of any democracy is the free and unalienable right to participate in the electoral process. But this was not always the case in America. This nation spent decades grappling with who would have the right to vote, and how that right would be preserved.  As suffrage slowly expanded its club of exclusive membership during the 20th Century, more and more Americans were given the opportunity to participate in elections. But across the South, African-Americans were largely excluded.

What remains questionable is the integrity of our nation and how we choose to allow individuals to participate in our democracy. The decision to employ such a commission to investigate voter fraud provides ample concern on the actions that are a result from their findings. I am positive that if the members of the commission are operating with due diligence to protect the integrity of our nation’s democracy and freedoms they will note the widespread discriminatory practices shown in our voting system. Although there is much irony behind certain members involved, such as Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, who has been a staunch advocate for employing discriminatory tactics to infringe upon the rights of voters. Meanwhile, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has chosen to overturn the previous administration’s policy of challenging voter identification laws.

It has become a tireless rant by Republicans crying out voter fraud when our focus should be on protecting the right to vote and not placing further restrictions on a particular group of people–students, seniors, and African-Americans and Latinos. This commission is a scare tactic being used against a vulnerable group of people and the timing of the report to be unveiled during the 2018 election cycle is not a coincidence. We must continue to push the current Administration to understand how imperative it is to actually provide solutions to the true issue of voter suppression and not voter fraud.

Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) represents the 30th District.