Government & Politics

This is where House Democrats are searching for evidence of voter suppression

House Democrats plan to expand their probe into possible voter suppression to North Carolina and probably Kansas, the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee told McClatchy.

“We’re looking at the most egregious situations,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, in an interview.

Cummings said his committee could wind up looking at at least four or five states as it digs into whether voting rights were routinely suppressed. The committee could hold hearings, subpoena witnesses and use its findings to champion legislation to remedy whatever problems it found.

Georgia’s election practices are already undergoing committee scrutiny. Top committee Democrats last week sent Gov. Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger lengthy requests for information about how the state’s 2018 election was run.

Cummings is also eying Kansas and North Carolina. He would not identify other states.

“We’ve got to look at Kansas probably because Kansas had a situation where they literally moved the voting booths out of the inner city,” he said.

In Dodge City, where 60 percent of residents are Hispanic, Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox moved the city’s only polling place to a building south of the city last year. The Wichita Eagle reported it could not be reached with sidewalks and was cut off from much of Dodge City by train tracks.

Cox said the move was necessary because of construction..

Cummings said “We’re going to also look at North Carolina.” He said courts found state officials “went out and looked to see where African-Americans were voting, and did it with precision to cut them out and deny them the right to vote,” he said.

Cummings did not cite a specific ruling. In 2016, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals tossed a 2013 North Carolina law that limited voting options and required voters to show ID at the polls.

The judges said that the North Carolina limits “target African Americans with almost surgical precision,” a line that has stuck. In 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the decision.

Last year, North Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment requiring ID to vote with 55.5 percent of the vote. Republican lawmakers wrote the law in December. A Wake County Superior Court judge threw out the amendment last month, declaring that “an illegally constituted General Assembly does not represent the people of North Carolina and is therefore not empowered to pass legislation that would amend the state’s constitution.”

Cummings did not say if he would follow the path he is pursuing to learn more about Georgia’s 2018 election.

He was not specific about how the committee’s work would proceed. A committee aide, who asked not to be named, said: “The Georgia probe may be the first of several ‘deep dives’ our committee will do on voter suppression across the country—in support of the work that the Judiciary and House Administration Committees are doing.” Those committees are also looking into different aspects of alleged voter suppression in recent years.

Cummings and Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat who heads the House subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties, have given Georgia’s Kemp and Raffensperger, both Republicans, until March 20 to respond to a March 6 letter requesting information.

Kemp commented during a news conference last week, saying, “They need to quit playing politics up there,” according to an Associated Press report.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger visited Columbus recently to discuss proposed changes to how Georgians would vote in the future, including replacing Georgia's current voting machines with ones providing an auditable paper trail.



The Democrats’ letter notes that while secretary of state, an office Kemp held from 2010 until being elected governor in November, his office reportedly cancelled voter registration for more than 1.4 million people.

Last year, it placed on hold registration applications for 53,000 Georgians, most of them minorities, a few weeks before the election. Kemp rejected Democrats’ claims that this was any sort of voter suppression.

The House Democrats also noted in their letter that in some Georgia counties with large minority populations, “voters waited for hours to cast their ballots, even though hundreds of available voting machines sat unused in government warehouses.”

Kemp was running for governor against Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who was seeking to become the nation’s first female African American governor. Kemp won with 50.2 percent of the vote.

Cummings and Raskin want “all communications related to any voter roll purges.” They’re also looking at “all documents related to your ethical or legal obligations or possible conflicts of interest while simultaneously running for governor and overseeing the state’s elections as Georgia’s secretary of state.”

Cummings said he was not sure what other states he may look into and set no timetable for further action. “It’s going to be a while,” he said. “We’re accumulating information.”

Jonathan Shorman of the Wichita Eagle and Brian Murphy of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this story.
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