Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. (Matt McClain for The Washington Post)

“We don’t have a problem of too many people showing up to vote. We have a problem of too few people showing up to vote.”

Leave it to Sherrilyn Ifill to succinctly expose the absurdity of President Trump’s election integrity commission. As president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), Ifill is supposed to protect the right to vote from suppression efforts. Her job became more urgent after the Supreme Court invalidated a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in its 2013 Shelby County v. Holder decision.


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In the latest episode of “Cape Up,” I ask Ifill about two claims by Trump that seem to form the foundation of the election integrity commission. One is that there is widespread voter fraud. The other is that 3 million undocumented immigrants cast ballots in the last presidential election. “No, it’s not true,” she said. “Trump being Trump, he takes it to the highest level. He doubles down, triples down, exponentially expands it.” As for the 3 million number, Ifill told me, “It was a number that was going to demonstrate to everyone that, in fact, he won the popular vote over Hillary Clinton, which he did not.”

In decrying ongoing efforts to deny Americans their right to vote, Ifill cited a comprehensive investigation done by Justin Levitt of voter impersonation. That’s the one that found just 31 instances of voter fraud out of 1 billion ballots cast in elections between 2000 and 2014. And Ifill talked about LDF’s successful challenge of the Texas voter-ID law as example of what the nation is up against. “We showed that there were 600,000 eligible voters that were disenfranchised,” Ifill noted. “That’s the population of Baltimore, basically, that in Texas, were made ineligible by this voter-ID law. It’s fundamentally anti-democratic.”

Sherrilyn Ifill talks with The Post’s Jonathan Capehart for the “Cape Up” podcast on July 7. (Carol Alderman/The Washington Post)

A voter suppression effort in North Carolina was also successfully challenged in court. But what’s happening in Texas and the Tar Heel State signals something more. For Ifill, this “is a kind of very powerful and important moment of crisis in our democracy, when the legislatures of two states have been found by federal courts to have deliberately attempted to disenfranchise minority voters.”

Listen to the podcast to hear Ifill talk more specifically about the role of race in the Shelby County v. Holder decision, whether she thinks Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. would write the same majority opinion today, the impact of race on the presidency and what she observes as the differences between Trump and former president Barack Obama.

“I really believe that maybe we will not know how much, almost like a kid, how much we are giving away,” said Ifill.

“Cape Up” is Jonathan’s weekly podcast talking to key figures behind the news and our culture. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher or wherever else you listen to podcasts.