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This is Voting in 2016: Armed Intimidation Squads, Purged Rolls, 868 Fewer Polling Stations

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On Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court restored a Republican-supported law in Arizona banning political campaigners from collecting absentee ballots filled out by voters. In New Jersey, a federal judge decided against the Democratic National Committee in a complaint it brought against the Republican National Committee, ruling that the RNC’s poll monitoring and ballot security activities did not violate a legal settlement. But in a ruling hailed by voting rights advocates, a federal judge late Friday ordered county elections boards in North Carolina to immediately restore registrations wrongfully purged from voter rolls. All of this comes as this year’s presidential election is the first in half a century to take place without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down crucial components in Section 5 of the act in a case called Shelby County v. Holder, when it ruled that states with histories of voting-related racial discrimination no longer had to “pre-clear” changes to their voting laws with the federal government. For more, we’re joined by Ari Berman, author of the recent article, “There Are 868 Fewer Places to Vote in 2016 Because the Supreme Court Gutted the Voting Rights Act.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are one day away from the U.S. presidential election, and both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are crisscrossing the country to make their final case to voters. Trump is scheduled to campaign today in Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Michigan. Clinton is heading to Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina. On Friday, Hillary Clinton appeared alongside the musical superstars Jay Z and Beyoncé in Cleveland.

BEYONCÉ KNOWLES-CARTER: Less than 100 years ago, women did not have the right to vote. Look how far we’ve come, from having no voice to being on the brink of making history again by electing the first woman president. Yes! But we have to vote. The world looks to us as a progressive country that leads change. Eight years ago, I was so inspired to know that my nephew, a young black child, could grow up knowing his dreams could be realized, by witnessing a black president in office. And now we have the opportunity to create more change. I want my daughter to grow up seeing a woman lead our country and know that her possibilities are limitless.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Donald Trump is accusing Democrats of voter fraud, claiming the late closing of a voting site in a Latino neighborhood of Las Vegas due to long lines pointed to a “rigged system.”

DONALD TRUMP: It’s being reported that certain key Democratic polling locations in Clark County were kept open for hours and hours beyond closing time to bus and bring Democratic voters in. Folks, it’s a rigged system. It’s a rigged system, and we’re going to beat it.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump’s remarks come after several key court decisions this weekend around voting rights. On Saturday, the U.S. Supreme Court restored a Republican-supported law in Arizona banning political campaigners from collecting absentee ballots filled out by voters. In New Jersey, a federal judge decided against the Democratic National Committee in a complaint it brought against the Republican National Committee, ruling the RNC’s poll monitoring and ballot security activities did not violate a legal settlement. But in a ruling hailed by voting rights advocates, a federal judge late Friday ordered county elections boards in North Carolina to immediately restore registrations wrongfully purged from voter rolls.

All this comes as this year’s presidential election is the first in half a century to take place without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down crucial components in Section 5 of the act in a case called Shelby County v. Holder, when it ruled states with histories of voting-related racial discrimination no longer had to “pre-clear” changes to their voting laws with the federal government.

We’re joined by—now, by The Nation’s Ari Berman, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. His most recent article is titled “There Are 868 Fewer Places to Vote in 2016 Because the Supreme Court Gutted the Voting Rights Act.”

Eight hundred sixty-eight fewer places to vote in the country?

ARI BERMAN: Yeah, this is really significant, Amy, and, I think, needs a lot more of attention. States with a long history of discrimination have been eliminating polling places on a massive scale, according to a new report by the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights, nearly 900 fewer polling places on Election Day in places like Texas and Arizona and North Carolina, states that have had a long history of closing polling places in black neighborhoods, for example. So I think this could have an impact. When there’s fewer polling places, there’s longer lines at the polls. People don’t know where to vote. There’s more confusion. So this has been, yet again, another under-the-radar voting change that could have a big impact on Election Day.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about that Reno, Nevada, speech that Trump gave this weekend, talking about the polls closing later than was originally scheduled.

ARI BERMAN: So, what happened was, on Saturday night, there was a huge turnout of Latino voters in Las Vegas. This has been a trend in early voting. Latino voting is up in Nevada and other states. And polls were extended because people were in line. And if you’re in line when polls close, you legally have to be able to vote. So there was no foul play there. Nevada officials were just following law. But this is a trend with Trump, that any time the voting looks like it’s going against him, he claims the election is rigged. And I think that Trump’s election rigging talk is code word for too many black and brown people voting. When he talks about monitoring the polls in certain communities, in certain areas, when he complains about too many people voting, we know what he’s talking about.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what’s—where you see are the key places right now and how the Supreme Court decisions that have come down and the court decisions this weekend affect voting on Tuesday.

ARI BERMAN: So there’s a bunch of different states that are important. We’ve seen that African-American turnout is down in North Carolina, because they limited the number of polling places, for example. In Texas, another state that had to approve their voting changes with the federal government, lots of people have been wrongly told they need strict photo ID to cast a ballot, even though they no longer do. I’m headed to Wisconsin later today, which has had huge problems with their voter ID law. The state said everyone who needs an ID will get one. But we have recordings from the DMV, we have lots of stories that I’ve told of people who are wrongly being turned away from the DMV in Wisconsin, wrongly turned away from the polls during early voting, because they don’t have strict ID that’s necessary. There’s a lot of different states where there’s potential problems.

Then you factor in polling place closures and then all the things we don’t know about, right? I mean, during the primary, this happened over and over and over. There were five-hour lines in Maricopa County, Arizona, because they eliminated 70 percent of their polling places. I didn’t know that occurred, until the five-hour lines were happening. So, I’m concerned not just what I know is going to happen, but, to paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, the known unknowns.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk about that, the election where Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio, he is also running. And actually—I mean, I was just in Arizona. People were saying he is not winning. But this threat to send out election monitors, what exactly this means, him being concerned about, overall, well-known Trump supporter, but also his own race?

ARI BERMAN: So, basically, what’s happened is, there’s a prohibition on the RNC, on the Republican Party, doing what’s called ballot security efforts, because back in New Jersey in the 1980s, they tried to purge black and Latino voters from the rolls, and they sent off-duty policemen to black and Hispanic polling places. And they had armbands that said “Ballot Security Task Force,” and they carried weapons. This was very intimidating. Courts basically said the Republican Party can’t intimidate voters at the polls under the guise of stopping voter fraud. But yet again, Trump has raised the prospect of intimidation, saying that he’s going to monitor the polls in certain areas, in places like Philadelphia, in cities like Las Vegas, the fact that he’s actually calling on law enforcement to monitor the polls, that GOP state parties have admitted they’re doing this kind of work in states like Michigan and Pennsylvania. So, this just is another specter hanging over this election, that people are going to be intimidated, that Trump supporters have called for racial profiling already at the polls. One Trump supporter said he’s going to monitor people like Mexicans, Syrians, anyone, in his words, who doesn’t “speak American.” This is extremely concerning, particularly in states like Arizona, as you mentioned, where there is high Latino turnout, and people who have been very racially discriminatory, like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, are on the ballot.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, Donald Trump warned that dead people and undocumented immigrants are voting.

DONALD TRUMP: They even want to try to rig the election at the polling booths. And believe me, there’s a lot going on. Do you ever hear these people? They say, “There’s nothing going on.” People that have died 10 years ago are still voting. Illegal immigrants are voting. I mean, where are the street smarts of some of these politicians?

TRUMP SUPPORTER: They don’t have any.

DONALD TRUMP: They don’t have any is right. So many cities are corrupt, and voter fraud is very, very common.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Ari Berman, there was someone who was arrested for voter fraud.

ARI BERMAN: Yeah, there was someone who was arrested for voter fraud in Iowa. First off, she was a Trump supporter, but let’s just leave that aside, because that’s not the important part of the story. The important part of the story is that she voted twice during early voting, and she was caught. So the system worked as it was supposed to, in a state without a strict voter ID law. The authorities noticed that this woman had voted twice, and now she’s facing five years in jail, a felony conviction and a $10,000 fine. And this is why voter fraud is extremely rare, because, number one, we have systems in place to stop it, but, number two, the risks don’t translate to the rewards. She went through all this effort, and then she swung one extra vote? Iowa is not going to be decided by one extra vote. But now she is facing—in a state like Iowa, where felons can’t vote, she may lose her voting rights for the rest of her life. So, despite what Trump says about dead people voting, noncitizens voting, it just doesn’t happen. This entire talk of voter fraud has been a completely manufactured controversy. There is a very small amount of voter fraud in American elections, and when it occurs, it’s usually caught.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Donald Trump may have succeeded in doing what voting rights advocates haven’t been able to do for years, and that is massively pick up the Latino vote. I mean, this could be the deciding vote in this country. Or there were—as there were some headlines that African-American voting is down, Latino voting is surging. Can you talk about that in relation to early voting? Millions and millions, what—what is the number of people this year that will have voted before Tuesday?

ARI BERMAN: Well, it was 40 million people have voted early as of a few days ago. So I think in states like Florida, North Carolina, we’re going to see that over 50 percent of the population has already voted.

And you’re absolutely right. You know, when Trump gave his first speech riding down that elevator in Trump Tower, that’s where he called Mexicans rapists. And I think the Latino community, from the very, very beginning, has paid very close attention to what Trump has been saying. And he’s been uniquely attacking this community. And I think they are coming out in force. Now, many of these new voting restrictions are not just targeting African Americans, but targeting Latinos. You look at a state like Texas, where 600,000 registered voters don’t have strict forms of ID, Latinos and African Americans are two to three times as likely as whites not to have them. If you’re talking about intimidation at the polls, much of this intimidation is directed at Latino voters. So, I’m concerned that without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act, these communities are more vulnerable. But it is very heartening to see them coming out and saying, “We are part of this democracy, no matter how much Trump wants to demonize us.”

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about the lawsuit that local Democratic parties brought in Ohio, Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, based on the 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act.

ARI BERMAN: This is pretty amazing that Democrats said that Trump’s voter intimidation schemes violate both the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which basically says that it’s illegal to obstruct someone’s right to vote based on race. And they said the fact that the Trump campaign is calling for de facto racial profiling at the polls, that they’re singling out places like Las Vegas and Cleveland and Philadelphia, where there’s large minority communities, to do this kind of poll watching, violates these kind of laws.

And it’s just a reminder of how far back we have to go in this country to contextualize the fight for voting rights, that people have been murdered just for trying to vote, that there is a long history of disenfranchising people through things like poll taxes and literacy tests and all-white primaries. And that’s why it’s so important, Amy, that we not go backwards, that we not allow voter ID laws and cuts to early voting and restrictions on voter registration drives to turn people away from the polls, because we’ve been through this history before. It’s an ugly history, and we don’t want to go back to those days.

AMY GOODMAN: The AP just did an exposé. Melania Trump was paid for 10 modeling jobs in the United States worth over $20,000 that occurred in the seven weeks before she had legal permission to work in the country. This according to detailed accounting ledgers, contracts and related documents from 20 years ago provided to the Associated Press.

ARI BERMAN: Yeah, I mean, it just, again, goes to show you the hypocrisy here, that, you know, it seems like Trump’s own wife was working illegally, and here he is demonizing people who might be here illegally. And, you know, it’s really important to talk about this fact that he says noncitizens are voting, because it just doesn’t make any sense. The people that are here illegally, that are undocumented, are probably here to work and provide a better life for their family. The last thing they want to do is vote, face a felony and face deportation. So, I think lots of the voter fraud hysteria is not about noncitizens voting; it’s to try to create this specter of intimidation that’s going to keep legal voters, people of color, from the polls.

AMY GOODMAN: North Carolina is definitely a swing state right now. You have Florida, North Carolina, even New Hampshire, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania. The ruling in North Carolina, what this means?

ARI BERMAN: This was significant. So, Republicans in North Carolina tried to purge many African-American voters from the polls, including a woman I wrote about, Grace Bell Hardison, who is 100 years old. She had lived in Belhaven, North Carolina, her entire life. She had been voting regularly since 1982. She voted in the—North Carolina’s presidential primary in March, yet they claim that she was illegally registered to vote. And so, what would have happened is she would have had to show up at a board of elections meeting or return a notarized form, at 100 years old, just to maintain her voting rights, because North Carolina has this crazy law where any citizen can challenge the right to vote of another citizen. So, Republicans brought these voter purges in three counties. And the federal court said that they violate the Voting Rights Act and that they violate the National Voter Registration Act, because, first off, you can’t purge people from the rolls 90 days before an election, according to the National Voter Registration Act. But more worrisome, in the county where Grace Bell Hardison, this 100-year-old woman, was from, Republicans challenged 138 people, and of those 138 people, 92 were African Americans, and 92 were Democrats. So it seemed like this was less about people being illegally registered to vote and more about the fact they wanted to keep voters of color and Democratic voters from being able to vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Could voter intimidation swing the election?

ARI BERMAN: I hope not. I mean, I hope this is going to be something that’s not going to be organized, that’s not going to be effective, that if it’s done, will only be done on isolated cases. But I think it’s very worrisome that in the year 2016 people could be challenged in their most fundamental right, simply because of where they live or what they look like.

AMY GOODMAN: In our next segment, we’re going to talk about felon rights. People have served time in prison. Millions will not be able to vote. But there are also many who actually can vote but don’t realize it. We’re going to talk about what’s happening throughout this country when it comes to prisoners and ex-prisoners. Ari Berman, thanks so much for joining us—

ARI BERMAN: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: —senior contributing writer for The Nation. His latest piece, “There Are 868 Fewer Places to Vote in 2016 Because the Supreme Court Gutted the Voting Rights Act.” We will link to that. And also, Ari has written the book Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. This is Democracy Now! Stay with us.

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