Why are Republicans so obsessed with voter fraud? Study after study finds no evidence of any large-scale voter fraud in the country, yet we keep hearing about necessary changes to voting systems in order to combat this major threat to democracy. Here’s the thing — it’s a sleight of hand trick, just the latest in a long history of racist voter suppression laws. By crying "voter fraud," the government has been able to tap into policies based in white supremacy with the intent of curbing voter turnout, particularly among black voters.
Carol Anderson follows her wildly popular book “White Rage” with “One Person, No Vote,” detailing the sustained attacks on voting rights that we are watching unfold as we head into the midterm elections.
CAROL ANDERSON: When people are talking about We must protect the integrity of the ballot box, so we must have these voters IDs, they're basing it on this lie of voter fraud.
CHRIS HAYES: Right.
CAROL ANDERSON: The whole thing falls apart, but what has happened is like when you say a lie so many times that it becomes the truth. Too many Americans believe that, at least occasionally, this kind of deep voter fraud is happening, so therefore requiring something that is deemed as reasonable as an ID becomes like, Well, what's the problem?
CHRIS HAYES: Hello, and welcome to "Why Is This Happening" with me, your host, Chris Hayes.
Sometimes when you're reading the newspaper or watching coverage of international news, you'll hear this phrase a lot: “Free and fair elections.” It's a phrase that American officials will use, international officials will use, N.G.O. monitors will use to describe a kind of threshold for what we think of as legitimate democratic society — free and fair elections. And the reason that phrase is so important is that you can't just have the elections part, right? It's a key part of this. “Free and fair elections” exists as a phrase — as a threshold that defines a democratic society — because the elections part isn't enough.
Best example, of course, was Iraq under Saddam Hussein, which had elections, I think, every four years, in which Saddam Hussein won 98 percent of the vote. As we know, Putin's Russia has elections and, in those elections, opposition candidates are routinely disqualified from the ballot or harassed or prosecuted on trumped-up and obviously politically-motivated charges. In Iran, they have elections; oftentimes, opposition candidates are disqualified for various reasons.
So democracy has to be more than just holding elections, and what the phrase “free and fair elections” gets to is that the rules under which elections are conducted confer legitimacy on a democratic process. You have to have a certain set of neutral rules that don't essentially work actively to favor an outcome — particularly for the regime in power — in order to have a legitimate democratic system and free and fair elections. Okay, so hold that in your head.
We turn now to Georgia, a state of our union, in which a man named Brian Kemp is running for governor, and that man happens to be the Secretary of State of the state of Georgia. He is a Republican, and he is in charge with overseeing the electoral infrastructure of the state of Georgia. that involves processing requests for voter registration.
Brian Kemp currently is in a lot of hot water because his office has put on pause 53,000 registrants who are trying to register to vote. because their registration information doesn't perfectly match their actual information. Right, so there's some small error — these can be typographical, these can be a lot of things. Funnily enough, the percentage of Georgians that are African American is about 32 percent. The percentage of registrants in the pool of registrations that have been frozen by Brian Kemp are 70 percent black, which is (if you're not a math wiz) a lot higher.
Now, you might look at that and say, Hmm, something funky is going on here. That does not seem cool. And you would be correct in saying that it does not seem cool, because Brian Kemp is simultaneously overseeing the electoral rules and infrastructure in an election he is running, in in a state in which he is facing a woman named Stacey Abrams who is both a black woman and has spent most of her political career invested in registering new voters — particularly voters of color — in the state of Georgia, so that they can wield their proper amount of electoral power.
So there's a real question, right: Is the Georgia election going to be a free and fair election, in an existential sense? If this is allowed to stand, if the Secretary of State can put on hold these registrants knowing that the bulk of them almost certainly are disproportionately likely to favor his opponent, and he can disqualify them, what kind of territory are we in?
Here's the thing, though: That's not that weird or anomalous in America. In fact, if there's a place in the world where the most devious ideas about how to rig elections were put to use, it is the American South — particularly in the wake of the Civil War, particularly in the wake of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. In the American South (which was putatively a democracy), in the Jim Crow South, they came up with all kinds of ways to rig elections to take away power from black people. And that tradition has endured for a very long time.
And right now in the 21st Century, as we find the country headed towards increasing demographic diversity — in which the share of the country that is white is declining — what we are seeing are a whole bunch of very familiar battle lines around what are the rules of elections, who gets to vote, under what conditions, how easy and open is access to the ballot box and who gets to decide the process by which the franchise is exercised.
Those are not ancillary questions to a democracy. They are the fundamental and essential questions to a democracy. They are the answer to the question of whether a society is engaged in free and fair elections.
My guest today is an American scholar who I've long admired; her name is Carol Anderson. She is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of African American Studies at Emory University. She wrote a book, her previous book called "White Rage" (which is an amazing book and really informed a lot of my thinking as I was writing "A Colony and a Nation"), which is a book about whiteness, and the power of whiteness, and the power of white anger in shaping American politics.
And she has a new book out which is about precisely this battle: The battle over the franchise both historically and in contemporary times. It's called "One Person, No Vote," and it is a polemic. It is a searing polemic about the historical continuity, reaching back into the bad old days to today, about how the structures of power — particularly of white supremacist power, white majority power, white conservative power have been brought to bear to cut people off from their access to their democratic rights, in order to preserve their own relative power. It is an urgent discussion at this moment, and my sense is that, as we head into the midterms and then into the future we are entering towards, it will become even more urgent.
I want to start with the last book you wrote, which had a real effect on me. I think about that book a lot, and it's called "White Rage." What is white rage?
CAROL ANDERSON: White rage is that quiet, smooth, corrosive, subtle type of policies that are put in place to undermine black advancement. And so I tracked it from Reconstruction to the Great Migration to the Brown Decision to the Civil Rights movement to the election of Barack Obama because, in those key moments, you see African Americans advancing, gaining access to their citizenship rights. And what we also see... Look at the ways that the courts, the ways that legislatures, the ways that governors and presidents begin to implement policy to undermine that advancement. I did that because rage is often seen... You know, when we think of white rage, we think of the Klan, we think of Charlottesville, tiki torches, but this kind of quiet destructive undermining of citizenship rights is much more destructive.
CHRIS HAYES: What is that thing there emotionally?
CAROL ANDERSON: That thing that's there is almost blinding, and that's why rage struck so hard for me.
Let me give you a bit of the backstory: I'm watching the uprising in Ferguson and I'm listening to the pundits on all of the — not all of the stations, because now we have 897, but the major — stations, and they're all saying the same thing: Woo, look at that black rage. Look at black people burning up where they live. Wow, look at that rage. And I found myself shaking my head no, because I had lived in Missouri for 13 years, and I saw the way that policymakers systematically undermined African Americans' access to their basic rights. I went, No, this isn't black rage, this is white rage, and then I went Wow... that's white rage, because then what I began to understand is that what rage does is that it not only allows you to strike out, but it actually cuts the ground out from underneath you, too. So when we see this white rage, it is not only undermining African Americans, but it's also undermining the strength of the United States of America.
CHRIS HAYES: The book is about this force — white rage — and how it is marshaled by leaders to create policies that curtail the power of black people at key moments, particularly in response to gains. And I thought it's worth maybe taking a little time to talk about that trajectory you talk about — from Reconstruction, the Great Migration, Civil Rights, Barack Obama — because the Reconstruction stuff is the place where it is the most out in the open, right? I mean, that's just straight up terrorism, violence and mayhem.
CAROL ANDERSON: It's straight up terrorism and violence and mayhem, but one of the things I want to make clear is that the thing that makes that violence so pernicious, so forceful, so frightening is that you have respectable members of society actually condoning that kind of violence, and so it becomes part of the policymaking apparatus. So we have these notions — because this is what the corrosiveness of white rage does — we have these notions that justice is blind, that this is a democracy, that this is a society of equals. We have all of these notions about what America is, and white rage systematically undermines every one of those.
We see this white rage, it is not only undermining African Americans, but it's also undermining the strength of the United States of America.
And that violence that was so out in the open ... You had the president of the United States, Andrew Johnson, going... he gets a report back from Carl Schurz (whom he had sent down to, in fact, investigate what was going on in the South right after the war), and Schurz's report is just harrowing, something straight out of Stephen King.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah.
CAROL ANDERSON: Andrew Johnson doesn't bat an eye, and when there are calls for Let's bring some troops down in here to try to quell this violence, Andrew Johnson doesn't see the need for it. And so what that does, then, is that it makes it clear that this is a society of impunity, that you can kill black people, and the policymakers are just fine with that.
CHRIS HAYES: The thing I kept thinking about when I was reading your book was just how, you know — and I've talked about this on the podcast before, Nikole Hannah-Jones and I talked about it in the context of segregation in schools — backlash anger is a particular kind of anger. It burns hotter, you know. If you've ever been in a zoning meeting, and people are getting up and they're just flipping because you're going to take something from them, that's what it comes down to, right? There's this sort of combination of bigotry and racism and hate of a person because they're from a group, combined with a threat. The feeling of threat is related to the rage and inextricably bound up with it.
CAROL ANDERSON: Absolutely. One of the key ways that white rage works is that it frames rights as a zero sum game, so that the only way that African Americans can gain will be at whites' expense. Andrew Johnson was blatantly clear about this when there was the discussion in Congress of the Civil Rights Act of 1866. He's like, Well, you know, we don't even take care of our own, and then we're going to give all of these people rights? What's going to happen to whites, our own people? And that kind of sense that there are only so many rights to go around.
CHRIS HAYES: You see that today, literally that exact formula, particularly in the immigration debate right now. I have literally heard politicians, Trump on down, make exactly that case.
CAROL ANDERSON: Exactly, and this is, I've got to say, the beauty of being a historian, that you see the longer arc. And so that these things that pop up where we are today, we don't see them as being solely unique or an aberration, but we see the trajectory. We see the continuation of these kinds of frames that continue to create, churn, embroil and turmoil in the system.
CHRIS HAYES: You identified Barack Obama's election as a key point in this long trajectory of advancement followed by backlash. And the reason that I wanted to start with the first book is that it connects to the book that you have out now called "One Person, No Vote," in which you argue that the sustained attack on voting rights is inextricably bound up to the backlash politics of the post-Obama age.
CAROL ANDERSON: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. In fact, this book emerged out of "White Rage." When I was going around the nation giving talks on "White Rage," and I would get to that chapter in the book called “How to Unelect a Black President,” and I would get to the voter suppression piece, then in the Q and A, I'd get this: But I don't understand. I mean, you need an ID to check out a book from a library. How hard can it be to get an ID? Then I would begin to explain one, the lie of voter fraud, but two, how you then create an obstacle: You need an ID. And then you create an obstacle to the obstacle — the inability to get that ID or the very obstacles you have to go through, hop through, jump around, over, under to get to that ID — all as a means of depressing the vote from that coalition, those demographics that help put Barack Obama into the White House.
CHRIS HAYES: So African-American turnout in the presidential election in 2016 was down seven percent, am I right?
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes, seven percent.
CHRIS HAYES: And there's a question about why that is. Two theories, and they're not the only theories, but one is the candidate at the top of the ticket failed to adequately mobilize a coalition. The other is that the structural impediments that were put in front of people, particularly African Americans, succeeded in preventing enough of them from voting. Which do you think is right?
We continue to forget that, and we also forget that this was the first election in 50 years — the first presidential election in 50 years — without the protection of the Voting Rights Act.
CAROL ANDERSON: I'm going for the latter. And I'm going for the latter because, when you look at it, I'm intrigued by the narrative of "Hillary Clinton was just a bad candidate who got almost three million more votes than the person who's sitting in the White House." When we're having that discussion, we continue to forget that, and we also forget that this was the first election in 50 years — the first presidential election in 50 years — without the protection of the Voting Rights Act.
And without the protection of the Voting Rights Act — which was gutted in the 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder — it allowed states to erect these barriers (particularly states that had been under the pre-clearance proviso of the Voting Rights Act, where any changes that they made to their voting laws had to be okayed by the Department of Justice or the federal court in D.C.).
When we don't take that into account — and I've got to say, that was a war on the 15th Amendment — we're still in that war.That was a war on the citizenship rights not only of African Americans, but they went after Latinos too, as well as Asian Americans. They went after the youth. They went after students — that coalition that put Obama in the White House. Because of the loss of the Voting Rights Act, a whole series of mechanisms were put in place, and that had an effect, and if we don't pay attention to that, then we miss the kind of corrosive effect that it has on our democracy.
CHRIS HAYES: You know, you mention the 15th Amendment, and I think one of the reasons that I am personally obsessed with Reconstruction and it comes up on this podcast a lot is just because we really like to tell a story of forward progress in the United States in which things get better, and don't like to tell about the most iconic moment, where things got a lot better very quickly and then went in absolute reverse order for a very long time. I mean, the 15th Amendment is supposed to do what you have to pass the Voting Rights Act to do 100 years later.
CAROL ANDERSON: Right, right.
CHRIS HAYES: Like the point was we're now... We fought the Civil War. There's no slaves; there's no slaves, and there's no free men. We're all free men — men — and everyone will vote. And people did, right? There was massive voting of African Americans in the Reconstruction South. There were black elected representatives. There was a majority-black South Carolina lower house legislature.
CAROL ANDERSON: And we had black U.S. senators.
So, we had, with the 15th Amendment — which provided the right to vote without discrimination on account of race — black men (because we didn't have the 19th Amendment yet, black men) were voting. And the reason that the 15th Amendment came into being was that the radical Republicans —and I know that just sounds like an odd term today, we had radical Republicans. And these radical Republicans, they couldn't get through Congress the kind of economic foundation that the formerly-enslaved needed, which was the 40 acres — the land that had been seized from the plantation owners who had backed the Confederacy.
And because they couldn't get that through (because that was too radical for many of their colleagues in Congress,) what they did manage to get through was not only the 14th Amendment, which dealt with citizenship, birthright citizenship, then the 15th Amendment, which dealt with this right to vote, because they believed that if they could — because we had talked about all of that violence — if they could have African Americans have their rights established in a constitutional amendment, which would make it almost impervious to the whims of the political changes that were happening, politicians would then have to be responsive to the needs of that constituency.
CHRIS HAYES: Which was true. But, to me, one of the big lessons — I think this is one of the points of "One Person, No Vote" — is that the law, in some ways, means nothing because we had the law. We went through, literally, the fight about suffrage, and the good guys won, and the bad guys lost, and we got the 15th amendment. And then, what happened was it was destroyed and subverted through both a campaign of massive violence and terrorism, but also aggressive disingenuousness.
CAROL ANDERSON: By a very aggressive Supreme Court that systematically dismantled the 15th amendment by saying, This really wasn't about the right to vote.
CHRIS HAYES: They take the thing, the plain text of the thing, and the historical context, and they rip it to shreds in front of the country's eyes, to preserve white supremacy.
CAROL ANDERSON: Right. And that is what we have to really pay attention to. One of the sub-themes, in both "White Rage" and in "One Person, No Vote," is how toxic white supremacy is to democracy, how destructive it is, and how it actually feeds in on itself, and destroys the very thing that it says it wants to preserve. It is dangerous. We see this with the 15th amendment, where the courts are saying, No, that is not what that 15th Amendment was about. And then, the courts okay the poll tax and the literacy test, although those are clearly designed to disenfranchise the black population.
But the genius — I think I called it "legislative evil genius" — behind it was they knew that they couldn't quite say, We don't want black people to vote, because that was just a little too stark and too clear even for that Supreme Court.
CHRIS HAYES: Okay. But this is what I find so fascinating, and this is what people really need to zoom in on. Even back then, even back then, right? They recognized. I think we have this sense sometimes that, Oh, back in the day, people were racist, and they said racist stuff, and now... " But people recognized it back then. I mean, you read the writing of Union soldiers, and Grant, and Frederick Douglass. People were pretty aware of what was up.
CAROL ANDERSON: Oh my gosh, yes.
CHRIS HAYES: They knew what the score was.
It's so funny because I think we have this idea that, Oh, well, those were old times, and just old-timey racist times. But it's like, No! People understood what was up, and they understood what was up when the radical Republicans fought for the 15th Amendment. And the white supremacists of the day recognized, more or less, they had to come up with ruses that would pass Supreme Court muster because they understood what had just happened, and why the amendment was passed, and how terrible it would look unless they basically clouded it in subterfuge.
CAROL ANDERSON: Absolutely. Absolutely. And so, what they did then was they took the societally-imposed characteristics of African Americans, and then made those the litmus test in order to gain access to the ballot box. So, literacy: They had systematically underfunded black schools systematically and systemically. So, the Mississippi Plan creates all of the these disfranchising tools, by the time we get into 1940, three percent of age-eligible African Americans were registered to vote in the South, only three percent, between the literacy test and the poll tax.
And that is because the literacy test. The differential in funding was 252 percent. NAACP reports showed in the 1940s a 252 percent differential in funding for black schools to white schools, so that white schools were basically getting 252 percent more on average. In Mississippi, the average was 751 percent.
Then, you take that kind of differential (and also that there weren't a lot of high schools built for black children) and, in the deep South — Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina — over 50 percent of black adults had fewer than five years of formal Jim Crow education. And then, you put in front of them large sections of the constitution, and tell them to read it and interpret it. Literacy test.
CHRIS HAYES: But the point there, too, is just, again: The whole thing is reverse engineered to stop black people from voting. It doesn't work in the opposite direction. They don't sit around and be like, What do we want? How do we want to screen our voters? Let's do literacy. Let's make sure they can afford to pay a poll tax. That's all just reverse engineered to come up with facially non-racist reasons to use white supremacy to stop black people from voting.
CAROL ANDERSON: Okay. So, this is where we are right now in the 21st century. It's apocryphal, but it's a Mark Twain quote that may not be a quote, but it's like "History may not repeat itself, but it sho' do rhyme." Because we are seeing the rhymes with what has emerged after the election of Barack Obama. It's not like they're saying, We don't want black people to vote, because they know that that's really hard to kind of get through the courts, even these courts.
And so, they're like, Ooh, our democracy is in peril. We have all of this fraudulent voting. Oh my God! Voter fraud! They're stealing elections! So, all we're asking for is an ID to prove you are who you say you are. Or that, We've got to be fiscally responsible, so we have to close down some of these polls where people used to vote. And it's just one doggone thing after the next that never says, We don't want black people to vote.
CHRIS HAYES: So, here's my question to you. To me it comes down to this question of good faith. Is there anyone motivated by good faith when they make arguments about voter fraud, voter ID?
CAROL ANDERSON: I have yet to find that person.
CHRIS HAYES: So, you think it's all pretextual?
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. And so, let me explain why I say that. In the 2000 election, we focus in on the incredible mess that happened down in Florida, but there was an equally incredible mess happening in St. Louis, Missouri, where the St. Louis Board of Election had purged nearly 50,000 voters off of the rolls shortly before the election and didn't notify them. And so, people come to vote, their names aren't on the rolls. The people at the polling stations can't get through to downtown to verify, so they just send the people downtown.
They are there for hours. Time is just ticking away. And so, the Democrats, by this time — because the polls are getting ready to close, and people are still downtown at the Board of Elections, trying to get their voting rights understood, to get them back on the rolls because they shouldn't have been purged in the first place.
The Democrats get a judge to say, Yes. This was a hot mess. She used much more judicial legal language than "hot mess," but it was a hot mess, and said, Okay, the polls can stay open for three hours longer, so they'll close at 10:00.
And the Republicans came in right after that with a higher judge, and had the polls closed by 7:45. And the language the Republicans used was not that we had voters who were illegally purged, and, We had citizens who were illegally purged. The language that the Republicans used — like Senator Kit Bond out of Missouri — was, This was an attempt by the Democrats to perpetrate the largest voter fraud scandal in America! This is scandalous! This is brazen! This is shocking! And kept pounding on that language of massive voter fraud.
And one of the ways that America works, as you know, is that we have criminalized blackness, particularly coming out of the Civil War. We have criminalized blackness so that, when you start talking about stealing, and you identify it with cities, and you identify cities with African Americans. Boom! You've got the trifecta. And that is what happened. And Kit Bond took that language into Congress as they were crafting the Help America Vote act, and then [they] took that language. There was a whole array of folks who use that language, pounding on Voter fraud! Voter fraud!"
Justin Leavitt, a law professor out of California, from 2000 to 2014, [found] out of 1 billion votes —and that's kind of Carl Sagan-ish, a billion votes — he found 31 cases where people [committed fraud]. Yeah. 31 out of 1 billion votes. It's like, Wow. This is the rampant voter fraud?
CHRIS HAYES: Well, here's the thing. This is a pet peeve of mine, and I'm just going to go off on it for a second, if you don't mind.
CAROL ANDERSON: Go. Go.
CHRIS HAYES: Which is that, if you've ever been a field organizer and trying to get people to vote, or try to get people to volunteer, any economist will tell you that voting's irrational, that your determinative impact on an outcome does not justify the time it takes.
When you commit a crime, people that commit crimes and take on legal risks, do it for a thing. Even if it's stealing a candy bar, you get the candy bar. Explain to me what the hell you get if you vote illegally. What do you get? It's 16,000 votes in a congressional primary, let's say. You don't get a candy bar; you get one little freaking drop of sand in a freaking vase of votes. That's why people don't commit voter fraud.
It's the reason it's so hard to get people to vote legitimately, because one vote has a tiny, tiny imperceptible impact on the outcome. So, the notion that you could even, if you wanted to... If you woke up one day, and you said, " am going to pull off the greatest voter fraud conspiracy the world has ever seen, you would be absolutely sunk. You'd be toast. You could not pull it off.
CAROL ANDERSON: And the other thing, too, is that the devices — the laws — are already in place to catch that.
CHRIS HAYES: Exactly. Because it would have to be at scale. That's the point.
CAROL ANDERSON: Right. Right. Right. So, that's why when people are talking about, We must protect the integrity of the ballot box. So, we must have these voter IDs, and they're basing it on this lie of voter fraud, the whole thing falls apart.
But what has happened is that, It's like when you say a lie so many times that it becomes the truth. Too many Americans believe that, at least occasionally, this kind of deep voter fraud is happening, so, therefore, requiring something that is deemed as reasonable as an ID becomes, Well, what's the problem?
CHRIS HAYES: Right. And there's even a connection to the literacy test, right? Because, in an abstract, history-contextless sense, to be like, Well, you have to be able to read at a certain level to vote doesn't sound insane. On its face, it doesn't sound insane, right?
CAROL ANDERSON: Exactly.
CHRIS HAYES: There's a certain "reasonableness" there. Particularly in the era before television, the only way that you could really find out about matters of public import would be reading. It doesn't seem totally nuts.
We've seen both legislative and rhetorical actions taken to create a sort of false crisis around voter fraud and voter integrity, and then laws around it.
CAROL ANDERSON: It doesn't seem totally nuts. And that's one of the ways why it works so well. So, this is what I laid out in "White Rage," and this is what I'm laying out in "One Person, No Vote," is that it is the "reasonableness" of it that gives it its aura of legitimacy, that gives it the veneer of being what a good government does. And it is just the opposite.
It's almost like one of those movies where the villain is suave, and you can't tell it immediately. But, Oh my gosh, look in the mirror, and it's Dorian Gray. It is just ugly what happens. So, when we begin to think about, What does it mean when you have a majority of African Americans — like I'm talking about in the 1940s, with the combination of the poll tax and the literacy test — where the majority of African Americans live in the South, and you've got 3 percent who are registered to vote? Wow. Think about how that skews our democracy.
CHRIS HAYES: And particularly now: We've seen both legislative and rhetorical actions taken to create a sort of false crisis around voter fraud and voter integrity, and then laws around it.
The pinnacle of that, I think — and in some ways the most preposterous version of it, which you write about in the book — is the president's truly deranged conspiracy theory about the election in which, again, there were millions of illegal votes. Again, think for a second. Just walk yourself through running the conspiracy that got millions of illegal votes. It would have to be as big as a campaign.
CAROL ANDERSON: It would have to be a global campaign, right?
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah. A global campaign. But he put together this Election Integrity body, and what has that been up to? Where'd we end up on that?
CAROL ANDERSON: So, that Electoral Integrity Commission —which was headed by Mike Pence and by Kris Kobach in Kansas, two of the great voter suppressors out there — they immediately issued a letter to 44 of the states demanding all of their voter data, including what party the folks voted for, and whether they had a felony conviction, and all of this.
And the states were like — and this is what I love — Mississippi was like, Excuse me? Not today, Satan. Not today. You can go jump in the Gulf before you'll get your hand [on it], you big bad federal government trying to mess with our state's rights. Meanwhile, you had other governments... So, we think of Mississippi, red state, right? You had blue states going, Oh, I don't think so. Not today. And even Kobach's Kansas said, No, you're not getting your hands on this. Because there were so many things. What are you doing with this data?
And you had Democrats who were on that commission who didn't even know that the letter had been sent. They were just barely window dressing to make it look like it was bipartisan. Well, what becomes so fascinating, because all of this is about this Voter fraud! Voter fraud! Voter fraud! is that one of the Democrats from Maine, he did, basically, a FOIA request or a lawsuit —or something to that effect — and got the documents from that commission. And on the section that was supposed to deal with all of this rampant voter fraud? The pages were blank because they couldn't find it, because it's not there.
I mean, so, this is the artifice then, that has created the so-called need for voter ID. And the thing about these voter IDs is that, again, it sounds innocuous, but it's not every ID that counts. Places like North Carolina went through — the legislature went through — to figure out the kinds of IDs African Americans did not have, and made the that the holy grail for the ID that you needed in order to be able to vote. So there are these disparities in types of IDs.
CHRIS HAYES: When you say that, there's findings of evidence in the record by federal courts that that's what they were doing, right?
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. So when you have the fourth circuit [court] say, North Carolina, you have targeted African Americans with nearly surgical precision.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, that's the line.
That's what this is designed to do. It's designed to demoralize and discourage voters.
CAROL ANDERSON: Wow. Because it wasn't just voter IDs. They also looked at early voting and figured out the days when African Americans voted the most during those early voting periods, and shut those days down. North Carolina also shut down polling places so that African Americans would have to go further to vote, but whites would not. And what the data are very clear about — the research, very clear — is that for every tenth of a mile that a polling place has moved from the black community, black voter turnout goes down by 0.5 percent.
CHRIS HAYES: Wow.
CAROL ANDERSON: Yeah. So what they did, for instance in Mecklenburg County — where Charlotte is — there had been 22 polling stations. They shut that down, got rid of 18, and left four for an area that contains 15 percent of the state's black population.
CHRIS HAYES: Whoa.
CAROL ANDERSON: Right? And I liken it to going to a grocery store right before Thanksgiving, right? And you look up, there's supposed to be 22 aisles open, lanes open, but they only have four cash registers. You know what that line is going to look like? That's what this is designed to do. It's designed to demoralize and discourage voters.
CHRIS HAYES: I think what you describe in your most recent book — and I think it — is part of a larger and very old anti-democratic impulse in the American right and particularly the sort of white supremacist American right. The fear that you can't win a fair game, the fear that too many people would vote, basically.
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes. When you think about it, in the founding of this nation, not everybody could vote. Basically, white male property owners could vote. But what I argue, and what we have seen through history, is that it is the aspiration of America where those who have been originally marginalized have fought. So we, the people, a nation of immigrants, we hold these truths to be self-evident. That is the ground where equality has been fought, hard fought for.
The backlash has been this desire, this need, to constrict that electorate. And I would say where we are right now, for instance, is when the Republican party wooed the southern Democrats into the Republican party — and that was in about 1968 because after 64, with the Civil Rights Act where the federal government said basically it was going to enforce the citizenship rights of African Americans and other people — you have the southern Democrats going, Oh my God, what happened? Did we just have Texan Lyndon Baines Johnson sign this law? And oh my God, we can't be in this thing where they're talking about equality and civil rights.
And my thing is that they should have withered away but, instead, the Republicans wooed that toxin into the party. And like most conservatives who have been running stuff, they thought that they could handle that toxin. They couldn't, and so you saw with almost each decade or each election is that the party moved further and further and further to the right. You saw moderate Republicans pushed out because they just couldn't even get through a primary because that kind of toxin was just rabid and there all the time, and that was the group that they had to pitch to, to the point where we ended up with Donald Trump.
But when you have those kinds of policies that are based on white supremacy and you have a nation that is growing more and more racially and ethnically diverse, those policies do not resonate with an increasingly diverse America. You've got two options. Reform. Really become the party you need to be. Or We're going to go for door number two, Jim, and then decide to suppress everybody that you know won't vote for you.
CHRIS HAYES: Right, but the problem is white rage won't let you reform. I mean, this is the trap. It's the toxin. It's why it's poison because you can't reform, because you now are dependent on a — not everyone, but a subset — sort of sturdy foundation of your base, are people that are there because they feel threat and they feel a combination of threat, fear and anger, and they are voting for you because you are going to protect them from the threat. In some ways, that's what Trump showed. Right? Like after 2012, they wrote this autopsy that was about reform and everyone, like No, that's not the way to win. The way to win is to double down on white rage.
CAROL ANDERSON: Exactly. Think about it. There were what, 16 Republicans in that field?
CHRIS HAYES: Right.
CAROL ANDERSON: There were senators, there were governors, there were people who had experience, but what Trump brought that nobody else brought was pure uncut white supremacy, from birtherism to executing the Central Park Five even when they were exonerated with DNA. He thought it was disgraceful that they should get a settlement for being locked away in prison for a crime they didn't commit. From "Mexicans are rapists and criminals." He brought it in ways that none of the others did because they were still operating under the old code of Southern strategy dog whistle. And he was like, I'm barking. And his base was like, Oh, we love that he just tells it like it is.
CHRIS HAYES: Right.
CAROL ANDERSON: Oh, we know what that means. And that's what he brought, and that's what he keeps resonating with. And so even when his policies are just heinous, he gives them a cut of, I'm locking up children, breaking up these families, putting babies in cages, and they're like, Well, they shouldn't have been breaking the law. Doing a Muslim ban, yeah. And each one of these is like a hit of crack. It's awful. I'm sorry, there probably was a better way to put that.
CHRIS HAYES: No, I think that's true. I think there's something, and I think there's a way in which the high gets chased. I think that's actually a problem, is that in the same way that drug receptors get worn out, you need higher and higher doses to get the same high. There's a little bit of that here, but there's also... Here's my big question about this is a lot of this, a lot of your book — Ari Berman is a great reporter who's been writing on this as well — it's about a certain subset of the conservative elite. Republicans understand that suppressing the vote and putting up structural impediments to people voting — particularly constituencies like young voters and voters of color — will provide them with a structural advantage, and they have set about implementing that policy, particularly in states where they have control, right?
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes.
CHRIS HAYES: It does not seem to me that Democrats, liberals, folks on the left, have caught up to the converse of that, which is: It is in your interest for as many people as possible to vote and for it to be as easy as possible to vote. And you don't see, or you're beginning to see this, but generally you do not see Democratic governments take control of the state and immediately go to town on making it as easy as possible to vote, automatic voter registration, more polling places, yada, yada, yada. Why is that?
CAROL ANDERSON: I'm going to liken it, pardon the analogy. I think in song titles and analogies. It reminds me of like a WWE wrestling match where you have one group that believes in the rules and civility and doing it the way that the rule book says they are. And you have another group that is pulling the can opener — the ref turns his head — pulling the can opener out of their boots and gouging away, and wrapping the rope around, and then the ref...
CHRIS HAYES: Coming in with a chair.
CAROL ANDERSON: Right, right, right. And then ref turns back around and all you see is the wrestler that was going by the rules just flat out. So the ref is counting him out.
So what happens then is that the Democrats are, one, very cognizant of the rules and the norms and they want to maintain that because that's how society can run. Two is that they're also very sensitive to the incredible messaging that conservatives, the right wing conservatives, are able to do without these kinds of bullet point things that get the people riled up, and so they call things socialism. All you gotta do is say, Socialism, oh, that's socialism.
Let me tell you a quick story. I was going through the Harry Truman papers because remember, Harry Truman had put forth a national health insurance plan. And the American Medical Association looked at it and went, Oh my God, this thing is really good. How do we stop it? How do we stop something that's going to be really good for Americans? Because if Americans understand how good this thing is, we're in trouble. And they hired a PR firm that looked at it and said, AMA is right. This thing is really good. You know what? We're going to call it socialism.
It's not, but that's how we're going to call it in every venue, and we're going to call it that in the newspapers when we're giving talks, when we're on the radio, in our hearings, we're going to keep calling it socialism, socialized medicine, because Americans hate socialism. This isn't socialism, but Americans hate socialism. And so we are going to get the American people to turn against something that's going to be really good for them just by calling it socialism. You see that kind of messaging happening now, and so I think that the kind of aggressiveness that a Scott Walker and the Republican legislature in Wisconsin had, that would almost be anathema in that same context.
CHRIS HAYES: Yeah, that's a great example. Right? What's the Democratic version of that, which is you get power and you empower your constituencies, right? The first thing you do is you go to work and getting as many voters as possible and franchising marginalized communities. I'll give you one example: Terry McAuliffe in Virginia. Terry McAuliffe in Virginia basically got rid of the felon disenfranchisement in that state and put 200,000 more people on the rolls.
CAROL ANDERSON: Yes.
CHRIS HAYES: Which by the way, let's just be clear: I think the majority of those votes are white and Lord knows how they were voting. WhoMever they vote for is fine. It's actually a first principle, they should be able to vote.
CAROL ANDERSON: Right.
CHRIS HAYES: But my feeling is, if you understand the logic of why Republicans are so intent on putting obstacles and you're a Democrat, for purely Machiavellian cutthroat political reasons, you probably should be doing everything in your power to make it as easy as possible for as many people as possible to vote.
CAROL ANDERSON: Well, one of the things that we're seeing in Georgia — Georgia is a battleground state right now for the governor's spot between Secretary of State Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams, the Democrat — and a key part of the Democrats' ground game there is just registering people to vote. We've got hundreds of thousands of people who are not registered to vote, and Georgia has set up a number of barriers. And one of the things I did want to talk about, too, with this is that, while it sounds like we're talking about voting in this kind of self contained microcosm piece, the effects are so profound on democracy.
Without the depth of voter suppression that we saw in the 2016 election in Milwaukee, in North Carolina, in Florida, in Michigan, we don't have an electoral college-elected president sitting in the White House. These things have an enormous effect about the way that we do our democracy, the way that we live, the vibrancy that we have as a nation.
And we're at this point where we're looking — and this is what we've been talking about — we're looking about whether we're going to have this kind of vibrant democracy that is inclusive, that embraces its people, or whether we're going to have this kind of Herrenvolk nationalist democracy where only a certain strata of people have access to the ballot box and have access to policy makers. That's where we are.
CHRIS HAYES: Carol Anderson is the Charles Howard Candler professor and chair of African American Studies at Emory University. She is, as I said, the author of "White Rage," which won the National Book Critics' Circle Award. This book, which she has out now, "One Person, No Vote," was just long-listed for the National Book Award. Am I right about that?
CAROL ANDERSON: That is correct, yes.
CHRIS HAYES: Man, dude, I'm jealous. I'm not even gonna front. Every year when that thing comes out I'm like, Ugh, damn it. This year, I don't have a book out, but last year it came out, I was like, Please, please. And I was like, Oh shit. And then the Foreman book — which is amazing — called "Locking Up Our Own," that book won the Pulitzer and I was reviewed with him in New York Times, which I tend, I think is basically Pulitzer adjacent.
CAROL ANDERSON: Hey, you are in the glow of success and power, okay?
CHRIS HAYES: I can't quite say I have a Pulitzer, but I was reviewed with the Pulitzer and I just interviewed someone long-listed for the National Book Award. Carol, this was great. Thank you so much.
CAROL ANDERSON: Thank you so much, Chris.
CHRIS HAYES: My great thanks to Carol Anderson for making some time for the podcast. Like I said, you can check out her book, "One Person, No Vote," which was long-listed for the National Book Award, which is fancy and impressive, jealousy inspiring. You can always tweet us at the hashtag #withpod, and you can email us — we'd love to get your emails, we'd love to get your feedback —firstname.lastname@example.org. Do not be shy with registering your feedback. We'd love to hear from you.
"Why Is This Happening" is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by the "All In" team, and music by Eddie Cooper. For transcripts, more episodes, and links to things we covered here, you can go to nbcnews.com/whyisthishappening.