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Opinion This Trump tweet signals a major assault on voting. Here’s what it might look like.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)


Donald Trump’s victory in the electoral college apparently wasn’t enough to quiet the mental demons that regularly hector him into tweeting out conspiracy theories and lies. Trump has now made national news with this tweet, a response to reports that Hillary Clinton’s campaign will join a recount effort in Wisconsin and possibly Michigan and Pennsylvania as well:

As Glenn Kessler explains, there is zero evidence that this happened. Trump will continue to reach deep into the fever swamps to shape reality for himself and his supporters — only now he’ll do so in the position as most powerful person in the world. Trump also tweeted that there was “serious voter fraud” in three states that the media refuses to report upon.

Paul Kane speaks to Libby Casey about President-elect Donald Trump's unfounded claim that millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton. (Video: The Washington Post)

But all this may also telegraph something concrete that we might see under a Trump presidency: A far more ambitious effort to restrict access to voting than we might have expected.

An ethical double standard for Trump, and the GOP?

“My concern is that this might be a signal that we will see an assault on voting rights,” Wendy Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told me today. “Claims of nonexistent voter fraud and noncitizen voting are precisely the kinds of baseless justifications that we’ve seen for the wave of laws in the past couple of years restricting voting access.”

Trump’s choice of Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general makes this more plausible. As a U.S. attorney in the mid-1980s, Sessions tried to prosecute three civil rights activists for voter fraud, when they were trying to help poor, elderly, and illiterate people to vote. They were acquitted.

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Here is what a Trump administration crackdown on voting rights might look like in specific terms, per the Brennan Center’s Wendy Weiser:

1) The Department of Justice might decline to enforce remaining portions of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court gutted the provision of the VRA that required states and localities with a history of discrimination to get federal clearance for changes to voting procedures. But the DOJ has continued to use remaining provisions to fight back against state-level efforts to restrict voting access. This might end.

“The DOJ has been a critical player in enforcing the Voting Rights Act against state or local overreach,” Weiser says, noting that many recent lawsuits have been successful in at least slowing the tide of restrictions. “Mere failure to enforce the law could have a real impact.”

2) The DOJ could aggressively pursue crackdowns on voter fraud to harmful effect. “We might see lawsuits pushing states to purge the voter rolls aggressively, saying they have dead people on them,” Weiser says. “That could end up harming thousands of real registered voters.”

Trump just proved he’s a pathological liar. Which part is worse, the lying or the pathology?

Remember, Trump has not only repeatedly fed the voter fraud lie; he has also repeatedly cited dead people on voter rolls as evidence of that fraud. While there are dead people on the rolls, that signals a need for modernization — it’s not a rationale for cracking down on fraud. But Trump could use it precisely that way.

3) The Trump administration could push to nationalize voting restrictions. Congressional Republicans, with the support of Trump, could emulate what we’ve seen on the state level, Weiser notes. “We’ve seen cutbacks to early voting, rollbacks of same-day registration, and laws making it hard for civic groups to help people register to vote,” she says. “We could see national legislation trying to nationalize some of these.” Weiser cites one possible example: A national standard limiting early voting.

4) Trump’s Supreme Court nominations might be hostile to voting rights. As Ari Berman explains, Trump might try to add justices who would further gut the Voting Rights Act: “Conservatives will target Section 2 of the law, which prohibits voting practices that discriminate on the basis of race or color. (This provision was successfully used to challenge voting restrictions in North Carolina and Texas this year.)”

Weiser suggests a preferable outcome. “My hope is that we come together around the real need to upgrade our voting machines and registration system, and to require post-election audits that will get us out of concerns that elections weren’t secure,” Weiser says. The irony is that Trump long claimed the election will be rigged — and continues to do so after winning the electoral college, because he can’t bear the thought of losing the popular vote — which should mean support for such reforms. But a big crackdown on voting access appears more likely.

How long before the white working class realizes Trump was just scamming them?

Bruce Ackerman, a constitutional law scholar at Yale University, tells me he worries it could all amount to the “beginning of the end of the Second Reconstruction.” This is the name some historians use to describe the sustained 20th Century effort to codify civil rights and full equality for African Americans after decades of voting and institutionalized discrimination, just as the original Reconstruction period tried to expand democracy after the end of slavery — an effort that was followed by the sort of retreat that could conceivably happen again.

“The rest of the Voting Rights Act will become a dead letter,” Ackerman suggested, adding that he expects nothing less than a wholesale rollback of “the fundamental achievements of the Second Reconstruction.”


* TRUMP ADVISERS AT WAR OVER ROMNEY: On CNN, Kellyanne Conway launched a blistering attack on the idea of Mitt Romney as Secretary of State:

“I’m all for party unity, but I’m not sure we have to pay for that with the secretary of state position…It’s just breathtaking in scope and intensity the type of messages I’ve received from all over the country…the number of people who feel betrayed to think that Governor Romney would get the most prominent Cabinet post after he went so far out of his way to hurt Donald Trump.”

Morning Joe reports that Trump is “furious” about Conway’s broadside. It already looks as if Trump’s advisers are going public to scuttle any willingness by Trump to pick a relatively non-crazy Secretary of State, which isn’t exactly reassuring.

* TRUMP MAY HAVE BEEN ‘PREPARING TO CAPITALIZE’ ON PRESIDENCY: The New York Times had an epic weekend dive into Trump’s extensive foreign holdings and the conflicts it could create for the new president. This nugget is striking:

Mr. Trump’s family appears to have been preparing for the transition to the Oval Office and ways to capitalize on it both in the United States and around the globe. In April, even before Mr. Trump had secured the Republican nomination, his business moved to trademark the name American Idea for use in branding hotels, spas and concierge services, according to the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

That might have been useful knowledge during the election…

* HOW TRUMP COULD WALL OFF HIS BUSINESSES: Bloomberg Businessweek reports that it would be hard for Trump to divest from his business empire. But that’s no excuse, because there are still immediate steps he could take to avoid conflicts:

Even without selling his businesses, there are ways the president-elect could wall himself off from his financial interests, says Norm Eisen…who previously served as the Obama administration’s ethics czar. Trump could appoint an independent chief executive officer, institute a list of Trump Organization executives he won’t talk to, and remove his children from leadership roles there. “No matter how complicated it may be to unwind his involvement in these assets, it is going to be infinitely more complicated for him and the U.S. and the world if he doesn’t,” Eisen says.

And, of course, congressional Republicans could be pressing Trump for more transparency. But it now looks like nothing is going to happen, and the conflicts will pile up.

* WHY TRUMP’S CONFLICTS MATTER: Paul Krugman points out that the conflicts created by Trump’s global business empire could provide incentives to shape foreign policy to the benefit of corrupt regimes abroad, and adds this key nuance:

One would like to hope that national security officials are explaining to Mr. Trump just how destructive it would be to let business considerations drive foreign policy. But reports say that Mr. Trump has barely met with those officials, refusing to get the briefings that are normal for a president-elect. So how bad will the effects of Trump-era corruption be? The best guess is, worse than you can possibly imagine.

Trump’s refusal to take real steps to avoid conflicts is of a piece with his total lack of curiosity about the world — he just doesn’t see a need to give any of this any serious thought.

* REPUBLICANS SHOULD REIN IN TRUMP CONFLICTS: E.J. Dionne quotes multiple Republicans thundering (before the election) that the Clinton Foundation must be investigated for conflicts, and notes that they’ve been silent on Trump’s conflicts:

If Trump wasn’t ready to put his business life behind him, he should not have run for president. And if Republicans — after all of their ethical sermons about Clinton — do not now demand that the incoming president unequivocally cut all of his and his family’s ties to his companies, they will be fully implicated in any Trump scandal that results from a shameful and partisan double standard.

Yup. And once again, there are concrete steps congressional Republicans could be taking right now that might make conflicts — and corruption — less likely during a Trump presidency.

* AND BANNON REPORTEDLY WANTED TO LIMIT VOTING RIGHTS: Scott Shane has an excellent profile of incoming White House senior counselor Stephen K. Bannon, with this bit of testimony from Julia Jones, a screenwriter and former colleague of Bannon:

Ms. Jones, the film colleague, said that in their years working together, Mr. Bannon occasionally talked about the genetic superiority of some people and once mused about the desirability of limiting the vote to property owners. “I said, ‘That would exclude a lot of African-Americans,’” Ms. Jones recalled. “He said, ‘Maybe that’s not such a bad thing.’ I said, ‘But what about Wendy?’” referring to Mr. Bannon’s executive assistant. “He said, ‘She’s different. She’s family.’”

But Jones does note elsewhere that Bannon is “not a racist” and is just “using” the alt-right to boost his own power, so that’s good.