Magazine July 27, 2020, Issue

The Voter-Suppression Myth

A polling station in Atlanta on Election Day in 2018 (Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)
Democrats manufacture the alleged problem, and then the media amplify it

Both parties engage in mythmaking to justify defeats or amplify wins. Since 2016, media dominated by the Left and sympathetic to the Democrats have pushed myths as justification for failure. Russia stole the 2016 election. It could not be that Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate beaten by a man not very well liked outside a core group of supporters. It had to be theft.

Grievance increasingly fuels the American political landscape. Republicans fundraise off toppled statues. Democrats fundraise off Donald Trump possibly beating their candidate. After 2018, grievance combined with progressive white guilt has given rise to more mythology. Now, it is not just the president collaborating with Vladimir Putin to steal elections. It is also Republicans suppressing the votes of minorities. The Democrats are not only manufacturing the mythology but using a playbook to create problems they can then blame on Republicans as proof of their claims.

In 2018, the national media fawned over Beto O’Rourke in Texas. His supposedly Kennedyesque looks and propensity for F-bombs gave him an absolute pass on being both a white man who drove a Hispanic Democrat from office in a primary and one who attempted to flee the scene of a wreck he caused while drunk. The media wanted nothing to do with those stories because he was trying to take out a Hispanic officeholder named “Ted Cruz.”

Meanwhile, Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams were running for governor in Florida and Georgia respectively. They got no love from Vanity Fair and they had no Kennedy-like features to lure in the New York Times. Both candidates campaigned in the shadow of the media’s swoon for O’Rourke, and both candidates outperformed him.

In the Senate race in Texas, O’Rourke won 48.3 percent of the vote in the general election. In Georgia, Abrams won 48.8 percent of the vote. In Florida, Gillum won 49.19 percent of the vote. White reporters for national outlets had not only fallen for the wrong candidate, but their excessive coverage of O’Rourke had undoubtedly helped O’Rourke hoard cash at the expense of both Gillum and Abrams. 

Unwilling to acknowledge their biases, the media had to find explanations for their excessive coverage of Beto and for the Abrams and Gillum losses. The myth was that their races were stolen by systemic Republican efforts to suppress the vote. 

In 2014 and 2016, Stacey Abrams, a state legislator in Georgia, had tried desperately to register new voters who might vote Democratic. National Democrats poured money into her efforts, encouraged by polling in both years that showed statewide Democrats tied with or ahead of Republicans. But in neither year did the surge of registrations matter. Though Abrams each year outperformed the Republican in the effort to register voters, she failed to turn them out.

In 2014, Georgia saw 50 percent of registered voters participate in its election. In 2018, 61 percent of registered voters participated. Minority-voter participation set new records, and minority-voter registration set new records, too. On Election Night in 2018, Abrams received more votes in Georgia than Hillary Clinton had received two years earlier. Abrams had also registered close to 1 million new voters. But Abrams improved Clinton’s margin by only 45,000 votes. Only around 100,000 of those newly registered voters showed up.

Instead of accepting defeat and acknowledging that her reputation as a vote-organizer was overrated, Abrams, the Democrats, and their media allies have screamed “Voter suppression.” They point to Brian Kemp, as Georgia’s secretary of state, “purging” over 1.5 million names from voter rolls. They ignore that Kemp did that because a state law passed by Democrats compelled him to remove from the rolls anyone who had not voted in seven years. The number was so high because a group affiliated with Abrams had sued in 2015 to prevent the 2014 and 2015 voter rolls from being cleaned. When they lost in 2017, the law compelled Kemp to clean the rolls from 2014 to 2017.

Democrats also point out that 53,000 voters had been placed in a “pending voter” file. The Associated Press ran a story about Marsha Appling-Nunez, who had registered to vote and had her registration held up perhaps because of the hyphen in her name. Brian Kemp, who was still the Georgia secretary of state, responded that she had been held up because she had already registered to vote. In fact, when the Democrats made that claim, Kemp could show that 75 percent of the people on the list had wrong Social Security numbers on their registration forms and 23 percent were voters whom Abrams’s own New Georgia Project had registered using incomplete or wrong information.

That last part is the most telling. Since 2014, 11,024 voters have been listed as “pending” in Georgia while the state has tried to find them. They have never shown up to vote and have not been found. The Georgia secretary of state disclosed the information, and local media reported it. National media outlets failed to report the facts.

Finally, Democrats pointed out that in some counties in Georgia there were not enough electronic voting machines, and local polling precincts were overwhelmed owing to the shortages. What the critics failed to point out is that Democrats had filed a lawsuit about the voting machines, leading a federal judge to impound many of them, reducing the supply for Election Day. They also failed to mention that Democrats controlled the boards of election in the counties that had problems.

In one telling instance, Democrats in Randolph County decided to close several precincts before the 2018 election. The precincts were not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the poor county in which they were located did not have enough money to bring them into compliance. The precincts that would have been closed — the Democrats eventually changed their minds — were precincts won by Donald Trump, but national Democrats, led by Abrams and the American Civil Liberties Union, claimed that the plan was an effort at minority-voter suppression.

The grievances foreshadow the Democrats’ likely plan for 2020. Each of the Democrats’ grievances concerning voter suppression in 2018 was manufactured by them before the press amplified it. Democrats sued to withhold voting machines, which contributed to long lines, which raised cries of voter suppression. Democrats tried to close polling precincts, which led to cries of voter suppression. Democrats flooded the system with voter registrations that were incomplete or had bad information, which led to cries of voter suppression.

The national media reported each of the stories according to the Democrats’ perspective and ignored any information that might have shown that voter suppression was not extant. After Abrams’s loss, national reporters coming off their Beto high felt an almost religious need to repent for having ignored Abrams and Gillum. They also now have a playbook to disrupt the 2020 election and scream voter suppression.

In Georgia in 2018, among the 53,000 voters in the “pending voter” file was the daughter of the secretary of state, Brian Kemp. She had registered to vote for her dad’s gubernatorial campaign but did not turn 18 until just before the November election. On turning 18, her name moved into the active-voter file. That one fact could have illustrated the lack of sinister motive in the existence of the pending-voter file, but it would have cut against the Democrats’ mythology.

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Erick Erickson — Mr. Erickson is a talk-radio host and a former election lawyer in Georgia.

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