Legislature pushes another troubling attack on voting and immigrants

Legislature pushes another troubling attack on voting and immigrants

- in Top Story, Weekly Briefing

Sometimes you have to wonder if there isn’t a very specific chapter in the political playbook of Donald Trump’s modern American right that includes the following entries under the heading “default strategies”:

A. Attack immigrants
B. Restrict voting rights
C. If possible, combine strategies a and b

After all, any political movement that would, a) stubbornly stand by a president who proposes to employ tactics reminiscent of the East German Stasi in dealing with border crossing immigrants and, b) host “how to” confabs in which architects and defenders of some of the most notorious gerrymanders and voter suppression schemes in U.S. history hold forth for politicians from across the country, is doing little to disguise its objectives.

By almost every indication, the right sees the demographic wave that is headed squarely in its direction over the next few decades and is scrambling madly to do everything its leaders can think of to hold back the tide.

  • Make it harder for desperate people – especially low-income people of color – to enter the country: Check.
  • Demonize immigrants who’ve lived here for decades as loyal Americans and make it harder for them to stay: Check.
  • Make it harder for people – especially young people and people of color – to vote: Check.
  • Make it harder for the votes of immigrants and people of color to make a difference by drawing them into a small handful of gerrymandered legislative districts: Check.
  • Attempt to rig the Census to undercount immigrants for any number of essential public purposes: Check.

And then there are the “twofer” policy proposals – the ones, as strategy C above urges – that target immigrants and limit voting rights.

Take for instance, proposals like the latest from an ill-conceived bill from Republican leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly to limit voting rights and spur unwarranted attacks on immigrants.

In case you missed it during the myriad ebbs and flows of the endless 2019 state legislative session, Senate Bill 250 would require the State Board of Elections to identify and remove people from voting rolls who — at some point in the past — have been excused from jury service due to their citizenship status.

Rep. George Cleveland

The bill was championed on the floor of the state House last week by one of the legislature’s most notorious anti-immigrant crusaders, Rep. George Cleveland – a man who once infamously claimed that he could identify undocumented immigrants by their appearance in public wearing “shaggy boots” and a “straw hat.”

There are lots of reasons why such a scheme is problematic.

First, the information collected in the jury selection process is notoriously unreliable, difficult to verify and frequently misleading.

For example, since potential jury lists are compiled using DMV records, many on the list are legally in the U.S. and in the process of moving toward citizenship. So, it frequently occurs that someone can be excused from jury duty for lack of citizenship and then later register to vote upon gaining citizenship. As a 2012 investigation by WRAL News reported when this same issue was raised at the time:

Comparing juror and voter information leads mostly to false or misleading matches. When WRAL News conducted a similar analysis earlier this year, every potentially fraudulent voter identified was a U.S. citizen.”

And, of course, people who fill out jury excuse applications have no idea that what they say on such forms could later impact their constitutional right to vote. As veteran Fayetteville attorney and state Rep. Billy Richardson noted in debate last week, Americans will often go to extraordinary lengths to avoid jury duty.

Nonetheless, if the bill becomes law, many will face the prospect of losing (or at least compromising) their right to vote based on the sharing of incomplete or stale information between bureaucracies.

But wait, there’s more. Another part of the proposal would advance the right’s overarching objective of intimidating immigrants by making a the private information of people identified by the State Board of Elections as potential non-citizens a public record. As a practical matter, such a provision could mean that the names, addresses, and birthdates of people would be accessible to anyone and subject to abuse by immigration control officials or even private activists who could use the information to target and harass immigrants.

In other words, merely checking the wrong box on a jury summons could cost a person their right to vote and set them up for dangerous harassment. And given that anti-immigrant advocacy groups have a history of attempting to “out” supposedly undocumented people and harass local election officials, this is no idle concern.

The bottom line: The right to vote and the opportunity to immigrate in order to escape poverty and persecution ought to be viewed as sacrosanct features of the American experience. Tragically, in the age of Trump, many conservatives have abandoned these ideas and now seek to take the country in a very dark and different direction.