The Battle for Election Integrity Heats Up in Southern States Ahead of Midterms

Activists opposing a new Jim Crow and one party politics in the South are raising alarm about the greatest threat to democracy in the United States. Unfair election maps will produce unjust results in the upcoming midterm elections, which will have long-lasting negative effects throughout the South. Redistricting in Mississippi and Alabama, for example, not only disenfranchises large amounts of Black voters but also promotes the same type of divisive politics that we see in Washington.

“When we draw political districts that unfairly disadvantage communities based on race, then we produce districts where candidates have to run to extremes because there is no need to compromise,” said Evan Milligan, executive director of Alabama Forward, a coalition of 30+ organizations working to build voter power, especially among young people of color.

Because candidates don’t have to appeal to so many different types of voters, Milligan said that they focus on shoring up their base within one community. Working-class Black voters are now packed into one congressional district and white voters are concentrated into six of Alabama’s other gerrymandered districts.

“If you make it out of your primary because your district is drawn in a way that disadvantages competition, then the most extreme candidate becomes the person who gets on the ballot. That is what is driving our political discourse today and it’s going to drive us off a cliff,” Milligan said.

Civil rights plaintiffs, such as the NAACP, Common Cause, and League of Women Voters filed lawsuits challenging redistricting plans in 12 Southern States. Gerrymandering lies at the heart of all of them.

Alabama’s three-judge panel ruled that the maps approved by the legislature were discriminatory. It ordered the state of Alabama to redraw its congressional districts to give Black voters a second chance. opportunity districtAt least 50 percent of the population is minorities. “They had many ways they could have done that but they chose not to do any of them,” Milligan said.

The Supreme Court will hear Merrill v. Milligan today. “The other plaintiffs and I — allies from Louisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Florida — are all here,” Milligan told Truthout. “We are going to have a rally on Tuesday and numerous public outreach events, including speaking with media to tell our stories, to invite people to think about the gravity of this moment. My hope is not based upon the courts. My hope is based on the agency of my people and our allies.”

No matter what the outcome of midterm elections is or how the Supreme Court rules, it will not affect the outcome. Merrill v. Milligan, activists are beginning to use the phrase “one demand, two options.” It means permanent voting rights protection for all Americans either by a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or the passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

“One demand, two options — that’s a nonviolent path away from this momentum towards going off the edge. That’s something we can place our hope in,” Milligan said.

Looking into the Midterms

Milligan’s role at Alabama Forward is developing the next generation of civil rights leaders. “If we want people to be leaders, we have to actually incentivize those people who are leaders to continue doing the work,” he said. Milligan said he knows plenty of good young candidates who can’t win office because of the discrimination they face. Milligan also noted that Alabama has many barriers that keep people from becoming involved in politics.

Minimum wage is $7.25/hour. Alabama’s minimum wage of $7.25/hour is still the norm. The state’s income tax starts below the poverty level, earlier than any other state in the country. Alabama taxes food and medicine. The state has not expanded Medicaid for low-income residents. Milligan stated that families are under tremendous pressure to make ends meet.

So, when organizers urge people to get out and vote to make things change, they are likely to respond, “‘How? I have a shift job and only get a half hour for lunch,’” Milligan said. “When people aren’t getting their needs met, there is little incentive to buy into the political process, so they stay home. So, yes, we do have a turnout problem.”

Common Cause and Black Voters Matter challenged unfair election mapping in Florida. This was because Black and Latino voting districts were split. One lawsuit contends the maps obliterated Florida’s 5th Congressional District by spreading its Black population into four congressional districts. Plaintiffs claim that redistricting results in three Democratic seats being eliminated and two previously competitive districts being transformed into Republican-leaning ones.

In another Florida case Common Cause v. LeePlaintiffs claim that the new election map reduces the number of Black Opportunity districts from four to 2.

“Those cases are still being fought in state and federal courts,” said Kira Romero-Craft, director of legal strategy for Demos, a “think-and-do-tank” for inclusive voting rights. In March, civil rights groups won a lawsuit against Florida’s anti-voter law, SB 90. The law “scaled back all of the advances that Florida has made in light of the pandemic that were used primarily by voters of color for the first time … primarily drop boxes,” Romero-Craft told Truthout.

SB 90 made it a crime for voters to offer food or water to them while they wait to vote. Another law that was aimed at signature gatherers required them give voters a disclaimer informing them that their registration forms may not have been processed in time. This had a chilling impact on registration efforts and civil rights groups sued in 2021.

It took one year, but the federal court in Florida’s northern District ruled in favor the plaintiffs in most of their claims in a 288-page opinion.

“It was really remarkable given that in this state, the legislature and the governor have been activist, meaning they are going after anyone who is challenging the system or the legislature,” Romero-Craft said.

Florida voters approved Amendment 4 in November 2018. This amendment restored the right to vote to felonies. The measure was passed by one-and-a-halfmillion people. However, the state legislature made the newly enfranchised voter pay back court fees and fines before they could exercise their right to vote. Many were simply priced out from the ballot box. A few people voted without having to pay what amounts to a poll fee. Governor Ron DeSantis announced 20 prosecutions for “voter fraud.”

“This is now being used again as a way to chill voters and voters who may have been impacted by a criminal conviction,” Romero-Craft told Truthout. “This is a system that has been historically used in this country to disenfranchise voters, particularly Black voters, and it is being used again to keep voters from exercising the franchise.”

In Georgia, Republican-aligned groups challenged more than 65,000 voter records in eight counties. In Michigan, the right-wing Election Integrity Fund challenged 22,000 absentee ballots for the state’s August primary. Houston election officials received in Harris County, Texas, 116 affidavits disputing the eligibility of 6,000 voter. Most of these claims were rejected by election officials. Some contained incorrect information, while others had the exact same wording.

Voter suppression can have far-reaching effects beyond the states in which it is implemented.

Republicans Won’t Stop Playing Dirty

The election deniers claim that Donald Trump was cheated of his victory in 2020. In fact, election results show that Joe Biden was elected to the White House because of a large turnout among non-white voters in 2020.

“The reality is that what happens in the South impacts the entire country. The cases we bring on behalf of disenfranchised communities really can show the power of partisan groups that use the democratic system to take advantage,” Romero-Craft said.

For example, afraid their candidates couldn’t win a fair election, Republicans closed down 1,688 polling stations between 2012 and 2018 in 13 states once covered by the preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, which required Department of Justice approval for all changes related to voting. Fewer polling stations makes casting a vote harder for many people, including those with disabilities and those who don’t drive.

Lincoln County, Georgia tried to close down all but one of the county’s polling places earlier this year. One-third of the county’s voters do not own a car. This means that there are fewer polling locations and longer travel times.

One studyThe small number of polling stations in Georgia prevented voters from casting ballots for the 2018 election. This was due to the fact that between 54,000- 85,000 Georgians were unable to vote. Researchers also found that poll closures were 20 percent more likely for Black voters than for white voters to miss an electoral vote. This problem could be remediated after an election, but these legal cases can be costly.

“Many of the battles that we are fighting right now are the same battles we’ve fought in the past,” said Sean Morales-Doyle, acting director for the Voting Rights Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. He stated that the scope and size of those fights has changed significantly since the 2020 election.

“We are now living with a political system in which a very large percentage of our electorate has bought into lies about our democracy, lies about what happened in the 2020 election, and lies about the fraud that they claim is rampant within our electoral system — and those lies have had a real impact,” Morales-Doyle said.

Election deniers made specific claims. “The fraud was happening where? In Milwaukee, in Detroit, in Philadelphia, in Atlanta — in majority-minority cities, that’s where the fraud was supposedly taking place. And those were the votes they wanted thrown out,” he said.

But there weren’t any piles of illegal votes in those cities any more than there were 11,780 uncounted votes in Georgia that Trump ordered Georgia’s secretary of state to find in order to hand him a victory over Biden. Many of the lies Trump supporters believe are repeated often in the halls and corridors of Congress.

The Brennan Center monitors anti-voter legislation across every state. One third of the restrictive voter laws that were passed in the past decade were passed in 2021. Many of these laws were introduced by election deniers.

“This is not just a story about partisan politics. It’s not just a story about disinformation. This is a story about race as it has always been in this country,” Morales-Doyle told Truthout.

Red states have passed racist discriminatory election rules to stop voters of color exercising the political power they exhibited in 2020. “The restrictions are aimed at the methods of voting that those folks were using,” he said.

The Brennan Center has noticed an interesting trend. In 2021, a number of Republican-controlled legislatures passed election interference laws making it easier for them to call into question election outcomes they don’t like.

“We’re seeing election deniers running for office as election officials, and we’re seeing election deniers being recruited to be poll workers and to be poll watchers,” Morales-Doyle said.

The Brennan Center has published election guideThis illustrates the security measures in place to keep rogue voters from disrupting elections. “Every state has these in place,” he said.

Election denial, racial discrimination, voter suppression — these are the hallmarks of an authoritarian cloud Trump has cast over the American landscape that threatens our collective future. According to the Associated Press, the Democrats are likely to lose five House seats in November. FiveThirtyEight Nate Silver, a political analyst. But he’s been wrong before.