When Georgia and other states began passing new election laws, the political left called it voter suppression. But is voter suppression actually taking place in America? Do safeguards such as voter ID requirements discourage voting?
In his new book “The Myth of Voter Suppression: The Left's Assault on Clean Elections,” Fred Lucas dives into the way the Left has used the narrative of voter suppression to further its political agenda.
Lucas, chief news correspondent for The Daily Signal and chief news correspondent and manager of its Investigative Reporting Project, joins the show to discuss what he learned as he dug into who is funding the “voter suppression” narrative and the effects that new voting laws have had on voter turnout.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: It's my pleasure to welcome a familiar voice to this show today. Fred Lucas is an investigative journalist here at The Daily Signal. He's a veteran White House correspondent and author of several books, including his latest, “The Myth of Voter Suppression: The Left's Assault on Clean Elections.” Fred, thanks for being here.
Fred Lucas: Yeah, thanks for having me on.
Allen: So, Fred, let's start with a little bit of history. Kind of paint the picture behind this book for us, if you will. So take us back to 2020 and 2021 just for a moment.
[Joe] Biden had just been elected and some Americans, they were concerned about the outcome of that election, and some states began to enact laws that they said would make it harder to cheat in elections and easier to vote. And then we started hearing complaints that these voting laws were actually voter suppression.
And what states were enacting new laws at that time and how did those voting laws differ from what their previous laws had been? What was the scene?
Lucas: Well, yeah, you had in 2021 about 20 states or so enacted some sort of election integrity laws. Most did have Republican governors, Republican legislatures. This led to a lot of partisan fire bombs by the president, by also Stacey Abrams, who coined the phrase “Jim Crow 2.0.” And then you had Joe Biden following that up with, “Well, this is not Jim Crow 2.0, it's Jim Eagle.” Which was sort of a, I guess, eagles are bigger than crows, but yeah. And from there they called this voter suppression.
Now, I do want to make one important point, and that is that voter suppression, it's a talking point, it's a focus group term, made to remind people of some really horrible things that happened in this country in the past.
But the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which has been a smashing success in expanding the number of people who can vote, that is something that it outlaws vote denial, voter intimidation, and vote dilution being done at some kind of institutionalized level.
Voter suppression is not in the U.S. code anywhere. So voter suppression is a way for, mostly people on the Left, various interest groups and politicians, to lump in some sort of illegal activity with legal activity as a way of saying you're restricting voting. And in most cases, or nearly every case, that's not what's happening.
What you saw in 2021 is the laws primarily did three things. They required voter ID for absentee voting. Around 35 states have some kind of voter ID laws. These states added it to absentee voting for mail-in balloting. That's important because we're seeing a point where mail-in balloting is going to outpace in-person balloting, in-person voting.
And the other is, it put real restrictions on ballot harvesting. Now, ballot harvesting, that's the practice of allowing political operatives to collect and distribute mass quantities of mail-in ballots.
And the third is that it requires more accurate voter lists. And that means you're taking off dead people from the voter rolls, you're taking off people who have moved to another state, and so forth, to make sure that potential imposters don't take those names and try to vote.
Allen: So given that background and kind of what you've just described, that these laws that were going into effect in states like Georgia, Texas, were doing, what exactly were people concerned about who are talking about voter suppression? When we heard those, mainly on the political left, who were saying, “No, that there is voter suppression happening,” what were they pointing to?
Lucas: Somehow they were pointing to—you could actually go back to 2000, 2006, 2008, when after, the book talks a lot about the Carter-Baker Commission report, which is Jimmy Carter and James Baker, was a bipartisan commission report after the 2000 presidential race.
They released their findings in 2005, made a whole bunch of recommendations about how to make elections more secure, got a lot of bipartisan hoopla, but then Republican legislatures, state legislatures around the country started implementing those recommendations. And then it became partisan.
One of the big ones was voter ID. And that had bipartisan support at one point, almost two decades ago, which is hard to believe now. But numerous red states and purple states implemented that. As I said, about 35 states have that.
And all sorts of dire predictions were made. People threw out the Jim Crow term at that point, that this is going to lead to voter suppression. Almost down to a T, every state with voter ID laws going back to 2006, a lot implemented them in 2011, voter turnout increased in those states.
Lucas: Yeah. And importantly, I want to say about these laws that were passed in 2021, we can't make a final judgment on the impact yet. However, we did have a primary season in 2022, and as my book “The Myth of Voter Suppression” points out, in the 2022 primaries, the best comparison you can make is to the 2018 primary, that's an off-year midterm.
And in Georgia, which was the most maligned state—that's the one that Joe Biden called Jim Eagle, that Stacey Abrams called Jim Crow 2.0—in Georgia voter turnout for the primary increased 168% from what it was in the 2018 primary. In Texas it was about 400,000 votes as well from four years earlier. Arizona actually had a record turnout for their midterm primaries, or for any primary, actually, in Arizona. In Iowa, it was 123%.
So those were among the most maligned states out there and you pretty much all together had a huge turnout for these states that were supposedly suppressing the vote. So if they were trying to suppress the vote, they were doing a really lousy job of it.
Allen: Fascinating. Fred, you've mentioned a couple times President Biden's remarks about Jim Crow being Jim Eagle. That was in 2021. Let's go ahead and roll those remarks just for a second.
So, as we talked about, there was this whole narrative that really blossomed and bloomed from the Left of Jim Crow 2.0 is what these voting regulations are. But you point out in the book that when Biden was a senator, he really fought hard against voter fraud. So why has that fight not continued into his time in the White House do you think?
Lucas: Yeah, there was actually a time, and I brought up the Carter-Baker Commission report, but while when Jimmy Carter was president and Joe Biden was a senator, there was talk about having automatic voter registration. And this is something that Joe Biden, Sen. Joe Biden, stood up for in 1979 and said, “This is a bad idea. I've talked to federal prosecutors. They think that this opens things wide open for fraud.” This was a Joe Biden who was challenging a president of his own party at the time.
A little bit later in the 1980s, Sen. Joe Biden teamed up with a junior senator named Mitch McConnell and they passed an anti-corruption act to make voter fraud a federal crime.
It wasn't really until around 2014 when Joe Biden was the vice president and he started speaking out against voter ID laws. So this metamorphosis happened when he was vice president with [President Barack] Obama.
The Obama administration's Justice Department brought lawsuits against a lot of the states that had voter ID laws in place. They lost pretty much all those. There were a few setbacks here and there for states, but as I mentioned, the federal government under Democratic administrations could not really bring a case or examples in court of how this suppressed the vote.
And so we now have Joe Biden as president making this case that, as we saw even in the Philadelphia speech in front of Independence Hall, that he made this claim that Republicans or MAGA Republicans don't want votes to be counted and want to curtail voting rights. Again, they're doing a really bad job if that's what they're trying to do because we've seen increased voter turnout from these 2021 laws.
Allen: Well, and we can't have this conversation and not talk about early voting mail-in ballots because there's strong opinions, obviously, on both sides of the aisle on this issue. And Democrats specifically have raised concerns that these new voting laws, that they restrict early voting, that people won't have time to get their ballots in, or that the elderly who can't travel to polling places, they'll be put in difficult situations where they can't vote.
What's your response to that? And also, in your research, what are the concerns that you have about widespread mail-in ballots? Or do you have concerns on that?
Lucas: Well, I do because widespread, as I said, it's on pace to outnumber, and it did outnumber in the 2020 election, certainly, the in-person voting. That was a special circumstance because we had the pandemic that year.
But we have this problem with ballot harvesting. And that is where you have political operatives, as I mentioned, they can distribute a large number of ballots, collect them, and bring them back. That's just calling for corruption.
We have HR 1, that was a legislation that was defeated. It was dubbed “For the People Act.” That law or bill actually would expand ballot harvesting and it would ban voter ID laws. And in the book I point out that this whole charge of Jim Crow 2.0 is ridiculous based on facts. But I say that HR 1 and some other bills that Democrats have pushed is very much like Tammany Hall 2.0.
Allen: Explain that. What is Tammany Hall 2.0?
Lucas: Right. Tammany Hall, and I'm using sort of an inclusive term for a lot of the old-school political machines, but Tammany Hall was this New York political machine started by Aaron Burr, but it lasted well until the 20th century before it collapsed. But it was a very corrupt machine.
It did things, though, such as had immigration mills. It would sign up people as citizens, and very loosey-goosey rules back in those days, they would sign up immigrants to instantly become citizens to vote in those days. You can almost see some of that happening now with open borders. They would also push for prisoners to be able to vote or releasing prisoners to be able to vote.
They had the famous Boss Tweed said that it's really the number of votes doesn't make the difference, it's who counts the votes. Something that Josef Stalin would repeat later on. But Boss Tweed, actually, who ran Tammany Hall actually said that first.
So this is something that Democrats—almost seems like H.R. 1 was almost saying the quiet part out loud, which is it would get rid of voter ID laws, it would throw the doors open for ballot harvesting, and on top of that, it would have same-day voter registration, which would be a nightmare for election clerks because they would have no way to verify these registrants if you had no ID and if you had mountains of ballots coming in from people, who knows who were these ballot harvesters.
Allen: Well, and it's fascinating to see the people that are engaging on this. We've seen Vice President Kamala Harris has weighed in and she's gone so far to say, “We need to pass voter rights legislation at the federal level.” And she's gone so far as to say, “Let's do away with the filibuster in order to get that done,” correct?
Lucas: Yeah. Just recently she's made that statement. And I think the big problem, Democrats, in a sort of Orwellian way, keep saying “voting rights legislation.” And it's really not. I mean, people have voting rights, or people do not have any trouble in this country either voting or registering to vote.
And what we've seen Democrats push for with the HR 1, HR 4, and these other laws is simply, basically, getting rid of any basic election security laws. And these laws have huge public support from every demographic.
I know Democrats have largely played the race card with these, but voter ID generally has something like 80% support. And we talk about how polarized the country is, very few things have 80% support. It just makes sense to people.
And coming back to even the ballot harvesting that I keep talking about, we had one of the biggest ballot harvesting scandals happen in 2018 out of North Carolina. And it was a Republican congressional candidate who basically cheated to win, that his election was invalidated after an investigation.
One might think that Democrats would be on board with election integrity measures to make sure these things happen. That hasn't been the case, but this shouldn't be a partisan issue.
Allen: Yeah, it shouldn't be. You're absolutely right.
Now, we talk about in journalism that when you're looking into a situation, when you're looking into a movement like this real push around the idea of a voter suppression, you have to follow the money. You have to look at where funding is coming from because someone has to pay for it. I know that you looked into this in your research for the book. What did you find, Fred?
Lucas: Yeah, there is a whole full chapter, and I actually call it the bank rolling the voter suppression hysteria-industrial complex. But yeah, it looks into, a lot of the money came from the Arabella Advisors, that whole network, that they've set up these groups.
Some are front groups in some cases, but one of the biggest groups that has pushed this, and it's a pretty well-established think tank out of New York, the Brennan Center for Justice. And it has continuously fed this narrative that voter suppression is a systemic problem in America and that any type of restriction out there would be a huge problem—voter ID, whatever.
And also, we've got Fair Fight Action, based out of Georgia, but it's a national group and has been pushing this heavily. And these groups are funded heavily by Arabella, Big Tech companies.
More recently, we've had this group called the U.S. Alliance for Election Excellence that it has set up. It's a 501(c)(3) and they're basically supplementing staff at election offices to sort of coach people on what they think are best practices. But if you look at the donors behind it, it's largely Big Tech, also largely a lot of liberal donors.
So you can guess what kind of best practices that they're going to be pushing at these local election offices.
Allen: We have an election coming up.
Allen: Midterms. What is the rhetoric that you think we're going to hear from both sides, from the Left and the Right, as the election is approaching? And then what do you expect to hear in the days that follow?
Lucas: Well, it's been said that democracy relies on the consent of the loser usually. And we have seen that, obviously, a problem on both sides. But President Biden has already said some of this legislation that he didn't get through, that there's a direct correlation with whether the 2022 elections will be legitimate based on not passing HR 1 or HR 5. I think Democrats might be setting things up for that.
He made the reference, again, that the votes won't be counted at that Pennsylvania speech, claiming to defend democracy. I think the problem is that kind of rhetoric undermines democracy when you undermine the faith in elections.
But we have seen, 2016, Hillary Clinton repeatedly, she did concede the race, so I will give her that, but she repeatedly said that the race was stolen from her. Then after 2020, President [Donald] Trump made the same claim. He didn't concede. But yeah, I mean, that's a problem and it looks like we're going to continue seeing that type of thing.
Allen: Fred, before we let you go, share a little bit about President Joe Biden's executive order on this issue.
Lucas: OK. Yeah. Well, even though the Democrats did not get what they wanted through HR 1, President Biden signed an executive order in March of 2021, not long after he came into office, that calls for an all-of-government approach to increasing voter participation and voter turnout.
So what we've seen here is that there's not been a lot of transparency on this. They haven't said what these agencies are going to be doing. They did come back with some information saying that agencies would be working with nonpartisan nonprofit organizations. Now, we don't know who those are. And that's what a lot of watchdog groups have tried to find out, and they've not had success.
Now, one of the groups that wrote this was, basically, it's a liberal think tank called Demos, operates out of New York. But they put out a policy briefing making six recommendations about what Biden can do through executive action on election reform. And he's essentially done this. And their biggest takeaway was they wanted federal agencies to be voter registration agencies. And that's what he's moved toward.
At The Daily Signal, we did get some information through a [Freedom of Information Act request] from [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] in which they have made public housing authorities voter registration agencies. But that's something. And there's still a vast array of agencies out there, though.
Allen: Fred, for those who want to dive deeper into this subject, tell us when the book is out and how we can get it.
Lucas: Yeah, the book is out this week, “The Myth of Voter Suppression.” You can get that on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever you like to buy books.
Allen: Excellent. Fred Lucas, the author of “The Myth of Voter Suppression: The Left's Assault on Clean Elections.” Fred, thanks for your time.
Lucas: Thanks for having me.
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