Trump vs The Vote: What Really Happened in the 2016 Election?

A Protester Advocating to Protect Voting Rights | Courtesy of Flickr

It was only moments before 3 PM on March 24 that President Donald Trump received the news he’d been waiting for. After twenty-two months of a lengthy investigation into whether he was to be officially charged for colluding with Russia in an effort to disempower the democratic principles of the election process and Hillary Clinton’s campaign efforts, the results were in. Emmet Flood, Trump’s designated White House lawyer, received a call from Attorney General William Barr’s Chief of Staff Brian Rabbitt. From an investigation that produced 2,800 subpoenas, almost 500 search warrants, and a similar amount of witness interviews, Attorney General Barr wrote, ”The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’” Officials from the Department of Justice had failed to establish a definitive conclusion as to whether the Trump Campaign or its associates had colluded with the Russian interference in the 2016 election.1 However, a majority of Americans weren’t relieved by this answer, and so it became more suspect that the hacking of the American voting processes by Russians was so simple and yet so easily dismissed. The case was, in reality, just large-scale foreign meddling using voter suppression techniques long used prior to 2016. After special counsel Robert Mueller indicted thirteen Russians for interfering and drastically influencing the results to favor anybody but Hillary Clinton, the fear was now in the stability of our democratic processes when accountability and subversion of a democracy can be crumbled in an instant. Russians were simply, “piggybacking on the years of work done by the GOP to stigmatize, disfranchise, and suppress the votes of African Americans and other minorities.”2 This highlights the fractures in the core of our institutions that fail to fill in the gaps on fair democratic processes when the instigator of such unknowns can be not only outsiders, but people within our institutions who will reap benefits from suppressing the votes of others. In fact, the history of voter suppression in the United States is so painstakingly long that we had to produce legislation to ensure the standard promise of democracy when it came to equalizing the vote for all Americans. That is when, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed.

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to address pervasive racial discrimination in voting laws. There were two important provisions: Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which included the “coverage formula” that determined which states had the most history of discrimination in voting; and Section 5, which contained the pre-clearance provision, which applied to whichever state(s) fell under the requirements in the coverage formula. Section 5 essentially halted discriminatory laws from going into effect if the state(s) could not prove that they did not discriminate against minorities.3 What was the reason for this act? To summarize, this Voting Rights Act reinforced the fifteenth amendment, and a congressional majority has renewed the act several times since 1965. The fifteenth amendment states that no one can deny any person to vote based on, “an account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”4 Not long after Reconstruction ended, white southerners regained power politically through aggrandizing the southern white vote disproportionately compared to their African-American counterparts. In the latter half of the nineteenth century, southern whites murdered and intimidated southern African Americans, committed voter fraud against them, and disadvantageously used African Americans by total population so as to gain representatives and leverage in the electoral college, all while erasing African-American voting power. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the New Deal was enacted to provide relief, reform, and financial recovery to suffering Americans. However, African Americans were excluded from most benefits, such as worker protections that ensured minimum wages and the ability to join unions. They also weren’t privileged to social welfare programs, so the steep economic hole that minorities fell into, continued. Southern Democrats kept control of national politics by blocking any legislation that would hinder their ability to discriminate; therefore, Congress left African-American rights out in order to get any legislation passed at all. Southern hegemony was transformed when an influx of southern democrats transferred to the Republican party during the Nixon presidency, subsequent to President Johnson’s advocacy for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.5

An image depicting Paul Weyrich, an advocate for increased Voter I.D Laws which are represented through the map by state, as suppressing the Majority by Getting People Not to Vote | Courtesy of Flickr

In the years of the Trump presidency, President Trump has redefined the Republican party’s demographic appeal to southern whites more overtly by pandering to racist groups through sly dog-whistles and codewords and noncondemning speeches that gained support from Neo-Nazis and former KKK members in the south, but this was nothing new. When referencing the “southern strategy,” which began in 1968 by Richard Nixon, the chairman of the Republican National Committee Ken Mehlman, admitted this strategy of using racial antagonisms to gain party support at the NAACP in 2005.6  Mehlman expressed, “By the ’70s and into the ’80s and ’90s, the Democratic Party solidified its gains in the African American community, and we Republicans did not effectively reach out….. Some Republicans gave up on winning the African American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”7 With the elimination of the pre-clearance provision set forth in Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act by the supreme court case of Shelby County V. Holder in 2013, the protectors of “equal sovereignty” laid the groundwork for an influx of litigation not prior to enacting the law but after the law existed, making it a mission for  African Americans and Mexican Americans today to protect their equal voting rights, which inevitably will be very costly.8 America is no longer in the Jim Crow era where outright segregation and voter suppression techniques such as poll taxes, reading tests, and grandfather clauses, exist, yet the basic active democratic process, namely the right to vote, is still being attacked in other ways. “Legal” loopholes today of voter suppression are manifested in partisan gerrymandering of voting districts that are racially based. And the Cross-Check system, which allows eligible voters to be purged from voter rolls for having similarly spelled minority names with others in different states, is practiced to thwart almost nonexistent voter fraud.9 The only real reason for this clear attack on voter rights is for political gain. History shows definitively which party would use such practices in order to secure power in the national government and also which would gain the most from diluting the minority vote.

When people think of Russian Interference in the 2016 presidential election, many think of either the Clinton emails, the Mueller investigation, or even Trump’s intentional soft reprimands of Putin. None are the focal point of what really happened. The growing global popularity of U.S idealism is justified because of its helpful stance in the international arena, rather than antidemocratic Russia’s stance. But it is a faulty guidebook to foreign policy, as it mistakes one country’s values as wholly universal and that it is acceptable to impose that universal set of values on other countries. The perception that U.S hegemony is generally the superior power play and immediately more influential to Russia than Russia is influential to the U.S, gave way to such an infiltration of our most valuable democratic processes, such as voting and electing our president. Too much confidence that the foundation of the United States democratic checks and balances endowed by the constitution, is an airtight system of checking abusive powers, left room for a leader such as President Trump to fraternize with Putin to such an extent where an unfair election was looming in plain sight.

A cartoon depicting Trump under Putin’s control | Courtesy of Openclipart

The mission for Putin was not to necessarily sing praise for a Trump presidency, but rather prevent Hillary Clinton from ever holding Russia accountable for all of its wrongdoings. The main reason a Hillary Clinton presidency was always an unfavorable outcome for Russia was because of her views against Russian foreign policy and antidemocratic positions. In late 2011, Putin accused her of, “‘sending a signal’ to hundreds of thousands of activists who turned out across Russia to protest the former KGB man’s third presidential term.”10 After Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, Clinton spearheaded lofty sanctions against them. Russia’s hateful agenda against her was only intensified. The first attack, in October of 2015, was Russian fake phishing emails, which were sent out to over 4,000 Democratic National Committee staffers. They traced back to a Russian hacking group that was eventually linked to Russia’s Federal Security service.11 The most prominent attack on the Clinton campaign was on March 19, 2016. That day, the email account of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman, was hacked. It was only months later that they published those very same stolen emails sporadically on WikiLeaks. Even if no significant criminal content was found, her campaign was hurt drastically in the process. In an analysis by FiveThirtyEight, the publishing schedules of the emails lined up with Hillary Clinton’s decline in the polls. Although they only determined the leaked emails as a factor in her loss of the election, it was ultimately last minute voters who favored Trump because of Clinton’s bad press that fractured the stability of her campaign strategy.12

Trump took advantage of this downfall by pandering to the Russian government through Putin himself. “As early as October 2007, Trump told CNN’s Larry King that Putin was ‘doing a great job in rebuilding the image of Russia and also rebuilding Russia period.'” In 2016, Trump reiterated in different variations, “I don’t think [Putin] has any respect for Clinton,” “I think he respects me.”13 The effect of this was far more hurtful to Trump when a few consequences followed his praises. What followed, however, was not a mutually beneficial agreement. His newfound power from being elected president made our democracy hinge on Russians who became dissatisfied with Trump’s inability to get past Congress. On July 25, 2017, both overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate passed a new bill cementing the Obama Administration’s previous economic sanctions against Moscow into law. The Kremlin was disappointed that their elected political pawn failed to seize control of his own political party. Even the blackmail against Trump wasn’t enough to spearhead his own party into conforming on such a bill.

“Trump’s administration has demonstrated total impotence by surrendering its executive authority to Congress in the most humiliating way,” wrote Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in a Facebook post. “The U.S. establishment fully outwitted Trump…. The hope that our relations with the new American administration would improve is finished.”14

President Trump’s admiration for Putin’s cult-like following led him to sing his praises and excite a country that would never contribute to democratizing their institutions but withdrawing them. Trump had a media ally who could emanate power and grandiosity in ways that he could not in the U.S. However, the connection with Russia was concluded as no more than superficial. This is despite Trump’s longstanding history with Russia communicating through top officials and even his son in law, Jared Kushner. No doubt the special counsel could not link the legitimate contributions to Russian collusion by Trump himself, but everyone around him proved otherwise. The U.S did not influence Russia; in fact, the opposite has been proved.

More likely a contribution to the love affair between two pompous world leaders was a massive overhaul on voting rights when in 2013, the Supreme Court case of Shelby County v. Holder held that the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. Keep in mind that this was only three years prior to the election of President Donald Trump in 2016. This court ruling led to a drastic increase in new voting laws and the subsequent challenges to these laws that followed. Earlier, we explored the early Jim Crow laws that were declared unconstitutional in 1965 with the Voting Rights Act, but the new discriminatory laws and tactics became increasingly harder to pin down as downright discriminatory with their facially neutral quality. Instead of requiring voters to pay a poll tax in order to vote, intimidation tactics by police, or otherwise, voters are now faced with strict voter ID laws, extensive purging of voter rolls, limiting polling locations, and underfunding for training, equipment, and lack of accessibility. Because it is so difficult to acknowledge that these laws are restrictive unless they are practiced over a period of time in an election environment to determine their effects, discriminatory laws are often passed without challenge for a while. The disenfranchising effects of these laws target the poor, minority, and immigrant citizens of the United States.15 Much of the demographic makeup of certain states do not reflect the actual eligible voting age population because of the aggressive voter suppression techniques reflected after the ruling in Shelby County V. Holder. Just hours after the ruling, Texas passed a bill called S.B. 14. This new law made it so that only certain government-issued ID’s were acceptable. The varying approved identification types were made so narrow that Drivers Licenses were essentially the closest accessible form of ID to be used. However, only one-third of the state’s counties have access to DMV’s and better yet, most that did not have access needed to travel upwards of 250 miles to even try to get one. This presents an insurmountable barrier to the economically disadvantaged, which more than likely are minorities. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF) had to worry about 600,000 citizens who were registered to vote but couldn’t because the narrow list of acceptable IDs were inaccessible to many African American, Latinos, and poor voters. All the while, Governor Greg Abbott failed to provide additional resources or funding to remedy the removed language from the bill that would have reimbursed voters who faced challenges to getting one of these forms of identification.16

What other motive exists to restrict accessibility to the polls other than voter suppression? Shouldn’t government officials want more people to vote? The blithering lies about voter fraud exists only as a mouthpiece from the GOP since voter suppression began. We cannot ignore the fact that this new law among others disproportionately affected minorities in Texas and the economically disadvantaged. The effects of these laws hinge on its disenfranchisement of the minority electorate in Texas. Voter ID laws in particular seek to dilute the voting power of the rapidly growing Latino electorate in Texas, where the state could turn blue if such laws and tactics did not exist. A major extension to the S.B. 14 Bill was the addition of felony penalties, which adds intimidation to the mix as well. If people fear they will be reprimanded for unintentionally doing something while trying to vote, they may seek to retreat from voting altogether.17

A poster directing voters where to vote in different languages | Courtesy of Flickr

Whether it be lack of transportation, work obligations, disabilities, among others, nobody should have to jump through hoops to exercise their right to vote. The most sinister part of these laws is the lack of education in them as well. If resources are not extended to inform voters on how to register to vote and what they may need to vote with ever-changing legislation being passed, an injustice is burdened on those who are unfamiliar with the political process. These laws make it harder to access the right to vote under every circumstance while excluding language that can be flagged as discriminatory. As long as the burden of proof can be pinned on protecting the sanctity of a vote, then Republicans will continue to restrict voting access down every avenue that negatively affects minorities. This comes as no surprise that despite Donald Trump’s evident loss of the popular vote in 2016, his saving grace was the electorate that diluted the strong minority vote in Texas among other states. The goal of the southern Democrats of the nineteenth century has been extended as far ahead as 2016 and forward. Make it as hard as possible for people to vote, but do it legally.

After two years of drawn-out investigations into whether Trump and his team colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, Mueller’s findings being deemed nonconclusive shattered the hopes across party lines where Democrats hoped to at least get him charged with obstruction of justice. The repercussions of such an investigation did not leave anyone unscathed however. Paul Manafort, a man who ran the campaign in 2016, was convicted of fraud as well as Michael Cohen, his former attorney. Michael Flynn was charged for perjury against the Department of Justice about conversations he had with Russia’s then ambassador. Rick Gates, a former Trump aide, plead guilty to conspiracy and committing perjury when asked about his status as a foreign agent. The biggest drop in the bucket, however, was Trump’s close ally Roger Stone. He committed perjury when asked about his knowledge on the release of Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails in 2016. The real crime was that he participated in hidden efforts to push for the release of the emails as part of campaign strategy favoring Donald Trump.18 

For people who expected such an investigation to show definitive results of the efforts to undermine our democracy through others demonstrates the fracture in our democratic institutions and for leaders inspired by authoritarianism to gracefully degrade the sanctity of our vote and the fairness of our vote. When Donald Trump turned a blind eye to Russia’s infiltration of our voting processes and clear propagandist attacks, the clear enemy was not Russia, but an enabling leader. Kremlin agents “weaponized” social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to exploit party polarization and provide immediate racial antagonisms directly to the target audience. These bots created fake accounts posing as social media activists and tweeted phrases such as “force Blacks to vote Killary,” and then backtracking with referencing Clinton as “the lesser of two devils,” and ending with a clear mounted attack to suppress voters with, “we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.”

Political Cartoon Depicting Russian Bots as Influential to U.S Elections and Voting Groups | Courtesy of Flickr

The Russian, but now “American” Social Justice Warriors, posed as activists groups inspired by Black Lives Matter in order to suppress the minority vote. The nail in the coffin was the phrase, “What have the Democrats done for you the last four years, the last 60 years?”19 Many users turned towards these rising political platforms for their information that feeds into racial bias and projected Democratic party shortcomings in order to lessen the more powerful voting group that Hillary needed. In fact, it wasn’t that Hillary was unpopular even after the emails were exposed; it was the voter suppression techniques originating from the GOP that Russia was inspired by. The true attack on our democratic process of voting was created by a group hidden among our own government. When the American people trust in our voting system, they must be able to trust the people in power to have their best interests at heart. What happens if they cannot even elect the people who represent their interests because of voter suppression?

  1. Brian Bennet, “‘This is Very Good.’ How Trump Beat the Mueller Investigation,” Time 193, no. 13 (2019), https://time.com/5560218/how-trump-beat-mueller-investigation/.
  2. Carol Anderson, One Person, No Vote (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019), 149-150.
  3. Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, Attorney General, No. 21-96 (October Term, 2012), https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-96_6k47.pdf.
  4. Jesse Botello, A Guidebook on The 1975 Voting Rights Act (New York: The John Hay Whitney Foundation,1976), 1.
  5. Stacy Abrams et al., Voter Suppression in U.S Elections (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2020), 59-60.
  6. Stacy Abrams et al., Voter Suppression in U.S Elections (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2020), 60.
  7. Mike Allen, “RNC Chief to Say It Was ‘Wrong’ to Exploit Racial Conflict for Votes,” Washington Post, July 14, 2005, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/2005/07/14/rnc-chief-to-say-it-was-wrong-to-exploit-racial-conflict-for-votes/66889840-8d59-44e1-8784-5c9b9ae85499/
  8. Jesse Botello, A Guidebook on The 1975 Voting Rights Act (New York: The John Hay Whitney Foundation,1976), 2-3.
  9. Stacy Abrams et al., Voter Suppression in U.S Elections (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2020), 60.
  10. Owen Matthews, “The One Who Got Away,” Newsweek Global 169, no. 6 (2017).
  11. Owen Matthews, “The One Who Got Away,” Newsweek Global 169, no 6 (2017),18-27.
  12. Harry Enten, “How Much Did Wikileaks Hurt Hillary Clinton?” December 23, 2016, FiveThirtyEight (website), https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/wikileaks-hillary-clinton/
  13. Owen Matthews, “The One Who Got Away,” Newsweek Global 169, no. 6 (2017), 18-27.
  14. Owen Matthews, “The One Who Got Away,” Newsweek Global 169, no. 6 (2017), 18-27.
  15. Lydia Hardy, “Voter Suppression Post-Shelby: Impacts and Issues of Voter Purge and Voter ID Laws,” Mercer Law Review 71, no.3 (2020): 857.
  16. Carol Anderson, One Person, No Vote (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019), 69.
  17. Carol Anderson, One Person, No Vote (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019), 69.
  18. Nicky Woolf, “The Mueller investigation didn’t end in a dramatic comeuppance for Trump- but then it was never going to: Perhaps the real Special Counsel investigation was inside us all along,” New Statesman 148, no. 5464 (2019)
  19. Carol Anderson, One Person, No Vote (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019),149-150.

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One Response

  1. Hi, Kendall, I really enjoyed your article. I know the constitution has worked and thanks to it, the USA is what it is today. But maybe that’s not such a good thing? It was written in a time of great racism (still is actually), and with an old time white male view. There is a loop hole where convicted felons could be barred from voting without violating the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. And it is very suspicious how a lot of people lost their voting rights in 2016. Another thing would be the electoral college, back then they didn’t trust citizens to make a vote and thats why they had representatives, for them to decide. But now who ever has more votes gets all the representatives, honestly I don’t see that need anymore. If a president has more votes then he should win.

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