Activists Urge Racist Presidential Election Results Should Not Be Certified

An intense women-led lobbying effort on Capital Hill spent Tuesday seeking two representatives and one senator to challenge Friday’s certification of 2016’s Electoral College vote, saying the nation needs to hear how Donald Trump’s margin of victory was built on racist tactics targeting black and brown voters. The activists were focusing on the Congressional Black Caucus, which they said has a special responsibility to defend the rights of citizens of color who were the targets of GOP voter suppression efforts in 2016.

Sisters in Struggle and Women and Allies implore you to make the right decision in supporting our objection against the disenfranchisement of black and brown voters that contaminated and delegitimized the election of 2016,” their letter said. “We are an intergenerational coalition of women of all colors…[who] put our lives, scholarships, careers and futures on the line to break through the iron curtain of black voters’ disenfranchisement. We fought too hard and sacrificed too much to allow the re-creation of a nation of first- and second-class citizens in 2016.”

The effort, if successful, would be the third time since 1877 that the Electoral College's selection of a president would be challenged. The last time was in early 2005, when the re-election of George W. Bush came after a litany of GOP-led voter suppression, voter disqualification and vote count anomalies occurred in Ohio. Former judge and Ohio Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs-Jones and California Sen. Barbara Boxer, both Democrats, objected to the 2004 Electoral College certification and forced each body to hold a two-hour debate before ratifying the Electoral College vote.

“Unfortunately, objecting to the electoral votes from Ohio is the only immediate avenue to bring these issues to light,” Tubbs-Jones said at the time. “While some have called our cause foolish, I can assure you that my parents, Mary and Andrew Tubbs, did not raise any fools. They raised a lawyer. They raised a former judge. They raised a prosecutor, and thank god, they lived to see me serve as a member of the House of Representatives. I’m duty-bound to follow the law and apply to the law to the facts as I find them, and it is on behalf of those millions of Americans who believe in and value our democratic process, and the right to vote, that I put forth this objection today.”

The activists urging the Congressional Black Caucus members to similarly challenge the 2016 Electoral College certification said that GOP racist electioneering is even more dire today.

“Our coalition bases our request on documented and irrefutable evidence that the electoral votes that electors cast in critical battleground states are invalid because they are based on rampant voter suppression, stolen and uncounted votes and other acts against black and brown people both during early voting and on election day,” their letter continued. “Time and time again you have gone to ordinary black people to ask for their votes, and they have delivered despite acts of criminalization, dehumanization, and voter intimidation. On top of this they have faced public slander by Republicans who have labeled them immoral citizens and voters who commit voter fraud and who must be tracked by the ‘moral majority’ through measures such as [intentionally restrictive] voter ID requirements and Crosschecking [a computerized program used by states to purge otherwise eligible voters]."

So far, there have been lukewarm responses from black leaders to file the challenge and lecture their peers about voting rights, said Ruby Sales, a civil rights crusader who is leading Sisters in Struggle.

“What we have are primitive promises, and they are predicated that we will do it if someone else steps up,” Sales said. “There was some indication that [Minnesota] Congressman Keith Ellison [a candidate for Democratic National Committee chair] would object, whether by writing the complaint or speaking when they return to to the chambers. Stanford Bishop, from home district in Columbus, Georgia indicated he would be interested. Their praise is always predicated on the actions of someone else. There’s a timidity to step out. There’s a lack of courage.”

The coalition has also been in touch with New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker’s office, Sales said, saying they were first reaching out to Black Caucus members. “If we can break through the monolith of silence, we can have a movement.”

Historic Necessity

A detailed and factual case can be presented showing a spectrum of intended slights and injuries against voters of color in the final three states—Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—that gave Trump his tainted Electoral College majority, the activists said, as well as in other states where Republicans targeted voters of color, such as Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina. Some of these details were seen in the recent presidential recount led by Green Party candidate Jill Stein, as well as in the unfolding political coup in North Carolina, where the outgoing GOP governor and GOP-majority legislature have sought to gut the incoming Democrat’s power and control of state election boards.

However, above these barriers and tactics was a bigger and longer view that needs to be conveyed, Sales said. She was referring to the way the Republican Party has been systematically resurrecting a racist states’ rights tradition that began soon after the American Civil War and is poised to assert itself across the federal government under Trump and congressional Republicans.

“Coming out of the South and having lived under the weight of states’ rights, we know that for many years there has been activity on the part of right-wing Republicans to supplant federal rights with state rights,” Sales said. “That goes back to the old model that was always in the South and was at the heart of segregation. That is the crisis we face today, the reinstitution of state rights that are predicted on white supremacy… the federal government has not fought the resurrection of states' rights in the country.”

The Electoral College challenge would force the Republican Party and the nation to acknowledge that the United States is not a post-racial society, contrary to claims by many in the GOP, she said, and to admit that racism is alive and can be seen in every step of American elections.

“When people say move on, they are asking us to lie down and submit to policies and actions that eradicate the meaning of our lives and our place in American democracy,” Sales said. “They are asking us to submit to the forces of oppression. They are asking us to surrender our rights of dissent. This is beyond black and brown people. Ultimately, it is a question of will we have a democracy or will we not?”

Victory by Racist Means

The process for filing an Electoral College challenge requires one House member to file the compliant, and one additional House member and a senator to sign onto it—triggering the ensuing two-hour debate that would become a focus for focusing on the many ways Republicans created barriers to voting by people of color.

“The GOP kicked more than a million people off voter registration lists with Crosscheck. They closed 868 polling places in African-American and Latino districts across the South for this election,” said Ann Massaro, a co-founder of Women and Allies. “[Trump] won a number of states by very narrow margins, less than 1 percent, so small factors would have been enough to change the result.”

Massaro gave many high-profile examples showing how GOP-sponsored racist election laws affected larger numbers of voters than Trump’s margin in key states. For example, he won Wisconsin by 22,000 votes, but a federal judge said in a ruling that 300,000 state residents lack the required ID under the state’s tougher voter ID law.  

“According to one post-election study, these were the percentages of people who wanted to vote but were unable to vote by ethnicity,” Massaro said. “Forty-seven percent Hispanic-Americans, 42 percent black Americans, and 29 percent white Americans. Hispanic and black Americans were twice as likely to have voted by provisional ballots than whites, which means these were ballots that may not have been counted at all.”

“The other really important thing is this whole Crosschecking feeds the complete criminalization of black and brown people,” she said. “It plays into calling them liars and calling them cheats. We’re saying millions of black and brown votes were erased from their 2016 election and we break it down state by state.”

The activists’ letter to the Black Caucus listed the tactics and their impacts. Here are the salient facts from the letter:

  • In Michigan, Trump supposedly won by 10,700 votes, yet 75,355 ballots were never counted—either marked unreadable, blank or rejected. Almost all these so-called "spoiled" ballots were cast in Detroit and Flint, communities of color. A hand count was revealing the obvious: in these uncounted ballots were the votes that defeated Mr. Trump. A partisan state court of appeals stopped the hand counting of paper ballots after a federal judge ordered it to be started. The votes of the Michigan electors must be rejected.
  • Similarly, in Wisconsin, the massive non-count of ballots in Milwaukee doubtless contain the tally that defeated Mr. Trump—but once again, a human hand-count of the ballots was denied. The electors’ vote for Trump must be rejected.
  • In Pennsylvania, in a close and suspect race, the hand-count of paper ballots and review of the machine codes was stymied.  Again, the missing tally came from communities of color. The choice of Pennsylvania electors must be challenged.
  • The U.S. Civil Rights Commission and Harvard Law School investigations have found that the chance a black voter’s ballot will be "spoiled" and not counted is 900% higher compared to a white one. And the terrible secret of American democracy is that millions of votes are cast and not counted in a typical national election.
  • The Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013 eradicated the need for certain states and local governments to obtain federal approval before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices.  Consequently, this ruling ushered in discriminatory assaults such as voter ID laws and other requirements that further disallowed black and brown people the right to vote.
  • Leading up to the 2016 election, Republicans closed 868 polling places primarily in areas where people of color reside and in states with a long history of voter discrimination such as North Carolina.
  • In Alabama, the state passed a law in 2011 requiring government-issued IDs in order to vote. It later announced that it was closing 31 driver licensing bureaus throughout the state. Consequently, the state made it difficult for black voters in 29 Black Belt and Democratic counties to obtain state-issued IDs in order to vote.
  • The New York Times reported last year that white election officials went door to door in Sparta, Georgia, systematically racially profiling, intimidating and terrorizing more than 180 mainly African-American voters by questioning the accuracy of their addresses. Sheriff deputies served them with "courtesy" summons which required them to appear in person to prove their residency.  
  • In North Carolina, under the guise of voter fraud, despite a lack of evidence, lawmakers moved to slash the number of early voting hours in heavy Democratic and black populated communities, such as Mecklenburg County, in an attempt to stifle voter turnout and to make it difficult to vote.  

The activists’ letter to the Black Caucus said these points are only the tip of the iceberg of racist voter suppression and vote-nullifying tactics, which all adds up to an illegitimate presidency for Donald Trump.

“Mr. Trump’s narrow lead of just over one percent of the vote raises the legitimate question of who would have won had not these acts of disenfranchisement taken place,” they said. “We have listened to some of you who have cautioned us that to interfere with the seating of Donald Trump will set loose civil unrest among his supporters. Whether you realize it or not, there is another powder keg that is percolating in black, brown and progressive communities who voted in large numbers for Secretary Clinton only to have their votes stolen and disregarded, not only by Republicans but seemingly by Democrats. The questions are before you: who will enter an objection and sign it?"

(Editor's Note: This report has been updated with new information.)

(Sign the activists' petition to Vice President Joe Biden, members of Congress, the Congressional Black Caucus, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer to challenge the 2016 Electoral College results.)


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