VIDEO: Padilla: Voter Suppression Playbook Still Rooted in White Supremacy

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) questioned a panel of voting rights experts in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing examining the rise in attacks on voting rights throughout the nation. The panel included Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Stacey Abrams, Founder of Fair Fight Action, and Dr. Carol Anderson, Ph.D., Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies and Chair of African American Studies at Emory University. Padilla has been outspoken about restoring and improving access to the ballot for the American people and about voter suppression tactics being rooted in white supremacy. Padilla previously served as California’s Secretary of State, where he oversaw all federal and state elections in California.  

WATCH: View Video of Padilla’s Questioning Download Video of Padilla’s Questioning 

Key Excerpts:

  • Some of our Republican colleagues raised the frame of working to make it easier to vote, but harder to cheat…study after study report after report, investigation after investigation continues to document that voter fraud in America is exceedingly rare. The vote part still requires a lot of work. And I thank you, Mr. Chair for prioritizing this topic for a hearing in this committee today. And I hope action by Congress in the very near future.
  • The long, long lines that we’ve seen in multiple states on general election night, the movement in some states for fewer days or fewer hours or fewer locations to vote, as time goes on, the shame in some states where we can debate the value added of a voter ID law, but when these laws are written in such a way that a concealed weapons permit allows you to get into the voting booth, but a state issued, state university ID does not, we know there’s an agenda behind the impact of these laws and on and on and on. 
  • We have the playbook on how to strengthen our democracy. Maintaining the security and integrity of our elections while facilitating more participation, but sadly, the term voter fraud, the potential for voter fraud is used as a pretext to do the opposite.
  • During the Jim Crow era, we know that racially targeted and racially motivated voter suppression was often blatant. Legislators adapted overtly racist policies like literacy tests, and poll taxes in an effort to shape the electorate.
  • Today’s voter suppression playbook is still rooted in white supremacy, and motivated by the same factors as their Jim Crow predecessors but looks different. Overtly racist policies have been replaced by facially neutral ones, like mandated in-person voting requirements. The decommissioning of polling sites and manipulated discriminatory photo ID laws is as mentioned, but just because these new voter suppression tactics are facially neutral, it can be harder for people to recognize and understand their pernicious effects. 

The full transcript of Padilla’s questioning can be found below:

PADILLA: Thank you Mr. Chair, and invite my colleague, any colleague, actually who would like to discuss the intricacies of election administration, more than happy to do so having served as a chief elections officer for not just the most populous state in the nation for the past six years, but home to the largest, most diverse, inclusive democracy of any state in the nation, even if it takes some alligator sausage and California Wine to bring us together. 

Speaking of Mr. Chair, I feel in many ways this hearing is a continuation of the quality conversation that was begun by the Rules Committee prior to the most recent state work period, of which I’m a member, as is Majority Leader Schumer, Minority Leader McConnell, and other leaders on this topic. And I raise that because in that hearing, some of our Republican colleagues raised the frame of working to make it easier to vote, but harder to cheat, as if it’s some sort of mantra or guiding value that was referenced that that was inspired by bipartisan action on election reforms after the 2000 presidential administration have seen and heard firsthand, a lot of Republican secretaries of state in recent years use that mantra easier to vote, and harder to cheat. And in some ways, it’s a helpful prism. Because it seems like we’ve done a heck of a great job, but the second part, the harder to cheat.

Study after study report after report, investigation after investigation continues to document that voter fraud in America is exceedingly rare. The vote part still requires a lot of work. And I thank you, Mr. Chair for prioritizing this topic for a hearing in this committee today. And I hope action by Congress in the very near future.

The easier to vote part requires a lot of work. I’ll tell you what, the sides are that we have a lot of work to do. The long, long lines that we’ve seen in multiple states on general election night, the movement in some states for fewer days or fewer hours or fewer locations to vote, as time goes on, the shame in some states where we can debate the value added of a voter ID law, but when these laws are written in such a way that a concealed weapons permit allows you to get into the voting booth, but a state issued, state university ID does not, we know there’s an agenda behind the impact of these laws and on and on and on. 

I tell you what does help, amplifying, increasing the opportunity to vote by mail for eligible voters as was done in New Hampshire, which was a big part of their increase in registering – in participation in 2020. I can assure you it was a big part of California’s record turnout in 2020 as well. Offering eligible voters more days, more hours, more flexibility of where to vote in person, if that is their choice. The acceptance of more vote by mail ballots that are postmarked on or before election day, even if they arrive after the election. The implementation of post-election audits to continue to buttress election integrity, etc., etc.

Mr. Chair, we have the playbook on how to strengthen our democracy. Maintaining the security and integrity of our elections while facilitating more participation, but sadly, the term voter fraud, the potential for voter fraud is used as a pretext to do the opposite.

Now, several of our colleagues have also referenced how 2020 was an election year that saw record registration in most parts of the country probably nationally as a whole record turnout in many, many states across the country nationally as a whole. And so why are the proposals making their way to Congress necessary? Well, you have to ask the same question when we see the – as of March 24, as of March 24, 361 bills introduced in 47 states that would restrict opportunities to vote in our election. 

And I know some of colleagues have said, well, just because they’re introduced doesn’t mean these measures are going to see the light of day, 5 have already been enacted, 29 have been passed by at least one chamber and more still under consideration. 

Mr. Chair, that’s a long preamble in the lead up to my main question for our witnesses here. And I begin with saying what more people should recognize, and that is that voter suppression is rooted in white supremacy. 

During the Jim Crow era, we know that racially targeted and racially motivated voter suppression was often blatant. Legislators adapted overtly racist policies like literacy tests, and poll taxes in an effort to shape the electorate. Today’s voter suppression playbook is still rooted in white supremacy, and motivated by the same factors as their Jim Crow predecessors but looks different. Overtly racist policies have been replaced by facially neutral ones, like mandated in-person voting requirements. The decommissioning of polling sites and manipulated discriminatory photo ID laws is as mentioned, but just because these new voter suppression tactics are facially neutral, it can be harder for people to recognize and understand their pernicious effects. 

So, my question for Ms. Ifill, Ms. Abrams, and Professor Anderson is simply, can you explain, can you share how these seemingly race neutral policies, nonetheless have disproportionate racial impacts?

IFILL: Well, if I might begin, Senator Padilla, and thank you. Let’s talk about a provision that we haven’t talked about today, which is that this law, SB 202, provides for unlimited challenges to the legitimacy of voters. I’m sure many people are aware that there are organizations who make it their business to challenge voters to determine whether a voter will in fact, should have been able to cast a vote, organizations like true the vote. There were 360,000 challenges after the November election in Georgia, and the Georgia Secretary of State found that there were no substantial findings that supported any widespread voter fraud through those challenges. 

If that was the case, if 360,000 challenges failed to produce anything significant, why does SB 202 now provide that anyone can make unlimited challenges to the legitimacy of voters. This is a form of voter intimidation that can often be used to target Black and Latino voters, to target voters who are who are from immigrant communities. What is the predicate? What is the underlying basis for that provision of the law? Why create this untrammeled system in which anyone can engage in unlimited challenges to voters? We know that this will disproportionately be targeted at communities of color and yet it is in SB 202. It is not connected to any evidence or predicate that it is necessary. It is not narrowly tailored. It is not designed to actually get at voter fraud. It is actually designed to create an unlimited system of voter intimidation that will be targeted at Black and Brown voters.

PADILLA: Ms. Abrams?

ABRAMS: I would only add that we know that of the 364,000 challenges, one of the provisions that are included in this, is that the counties that were able to speedily dismiss these challenges, for lack of evidence and lack of basis are now going to be penalized by the state if they do not engage in sham hearings that can serve to not only terrify voters, but also push them out of the process because they are unaware of how these processes work and they could be terrified that if they participated somehow that imperil their ability to participate in work or otherwise. And so, as Ms. Ifill pointed out, this is just one more example in addition to the number that we’ve given earlier, that demonstrates just how difficult it is to behave with integrity when you are being attacked with impunity by those whose racial animus and your mere presence as the threat to democracy. And I would actually like to see the rest of this to Dr. Anderson, who I think most ably can connect the dots between Jim Crow before And Jim Crow 2.0. 

ANDERSON: Thank you so much. And thank you, Senator Padilla, for your question. The challenges that Ms. Ifill has described were in these Jim Crow constitution, such as the one in North Carolina, that allowed any voter, anybody to go up and challenge the veracity, the validity, the legitimacy of a voter that was intimidation. That kind of engagement, that kind of harassment is what we see replicated in this bill. I would also say that one of the things that we see is the limitation of drop boxes, that drop boxes were really designed to deal with the pandemic, and designed to deal with the fact that the post office was being deliberately undercut in terms of its ability to deliver absentee ballots in a timely fashion. So, the rise of Dropbox has provided access to voters to be able to engage in this election process. What we saw, what we see with SB 202, however, is an elimination in Atlanta, where the majority of Black voters are, you see that we go from 94 drop boxes to 23. And those drop boxes are now to be housed inside, in buildings that can be closed. So, this is how you can limit access to the ballot box while writing race neutrally laws. These aren’t race neutral, they’re not as race neutral as the poll tax was or as the literacy test was. Neither of those said we don’t want Black folks to vote, but that was the underlying premise behind them as big chief made very clear. And that’s what we’re seeing right now, with these voter suppression laws. It is in response to the massive wave of Black voter turnout that happened in the 2020 and 2021 elections.

PADILLA: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

For additional information and testimonies on the hearing, click here.

###

Share on print
Print
Share on email
Share
Share on facebook
Like
Share on twitter
Tweet