Guest Commentary

We beat Trump on voter suppression this time, but the fight continues

Don’t mistake disbanding the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, co-chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, for total surrender. President Donald Trump has already delegated his voter suppression efforts to the more nimble DHS.
Don’t mistake disbanding the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, co-chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, for total surrender. President Donald Trump has already delegated his voter suppression efforts to the more nimble DHS. AP

This week, we beat President Donald Trump.

After a huge wave of backlash from Republicans, independents and Democrats who refused to let the president misuse their personal information to roll back their voting rights, Trump had no choice but to disband his un-American presidential task force on election integrity. The task force could have been his most effective, most visible weapon in his assault on voting rights.

Good riddance.

Trump’s executive order disbanding the commission is proof that when we make our argument to defend our voting rights, we win.

But let’s not mistake Trump’s move for total surrender. He has already delegated his voter suppression efforts to the Department of Homeland Security. It doesn’t carry the weight of a presidential task force, but DHS will be able to more nimbly and secretly influence policy all over the country to make it harder for certain groups of people to vote.

Trump has a lot to gain in this fight. He lost the popular vote by millions, and his approval rating is bottoming out. It’s highly unlikely he’ll be able to earnestly win voters’ trust before his next election, so he’s only left with a few options — the most appealing of which is to simply change the pool of people who vote in elections to favor himself.

This president doesn’t play by the rules. When he doesn’t like them, he changes them or lies about them. Feeling embarrassed about having to shut down his commission, Trump got on Twitter and repeated his lie about widespread voter fraud in the country. He also called for expanded voter ID laws — publicly admitting that the purpose of the commission was to pave the way for laws that would make voting less accessible.

This whole thing started a year ago when Trump made up the lie that there were millions of illegal votes in the 2016 election. It was an insidious, totally baseless falsehood to soothe his own bruised ego, and it did a lot of damage to Americans’ trust in our electoral system. But career vote suppressors like Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach saw an opportunity to expand their agenda.

Kobach will now be an informal adviser to the Department of Homeland Security (even though he was publicly embarrassed when Trump passed him up for the top job there last year), and he has already said that Democrats will be shut out of their conversations on election “reform.”

Kobach said that shutting down the commission was just a “change in tactics,” which is a clever way to cover up the embarrassing fact that the commission faced too much legal and political trouble to get anything done.

But there is some truth to what he said. No matter how many times the court shuts them down or how many Americans speak out to defend their rights, Republican politicians who stand to gain from suppressing voters won’t back down. They’ll only change their tactics.

Let’s be clear: The reason Trump shut down his sham commission is because activists all over the country spoke up. We won this battle, but there’s still a long fight ahead.

A year ago, when I gave my final speech as Missouri’s secretary of state, I promised Republicans in the House that there would be consequences if they continued their campaign to roll back voting rights in our state. A year later, my group Let America Vote has made that same promise to politicians across the country. If you make it harder to vote, we’re coming for your job.

The 2018 midterm elections are our best opportunity to tell politicians that our voting rights are off limits. I’ll be working every day to help elect voting rights champions in Missouri and around the country.

Jason Kander was Missouri secretary of state from 2013 to 2017.

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