AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News, I’m Aaron Maté. The backlash against President Trump’s so-called Election Integrity Commission is growing. Last week, the commission’s Vice Chair, Kris Kobach, asked every state to provide the private information of voters. Things like names, social security numbers, addresses, birth dates, political affiliation, and criminal history. But now some 47 states are refusing to comply. Joining me to discuss is Nina Turner, the former Ohio State Senator, now the President of Our Revolution, and the Host of the Nina Turner Show here on The Real News. Senator Turner, welcome.
NINA TURNER : Thank you, Aaron.
AARON MATÉ: Thanks for joining us. Your thoughts on this request, this insane request by Kris Kobach to all these states?
NINA TURNER : You called it. I mean, it is an insane request and I’m glad to see that 47 states thus far have weighed in. I think 20 states have just flat out said, “You’re getting nothing” and then the other 27 states are going to comply partially. But this is nothing but a commission to try to backup the falsehood that President Trump is peddling, about millions of people voting illegally, which is a fallacy. I think it was the Brennan Center that says that you have a greater likelihood of being struck by lightning than to have large swaths of people committing in person voter fraud. It is ridiculous, and it is meant to scare the American people and to make them feel as though they can’t trust our election system.
More than setting up a sham commission like this, what the president should be doing is looking at ways on how we can make voting more accessible, and also in light of what the intelligence agencies have said about the Russians and whether or not we are vulnerable in terms of the equipment, the voting machines and those kinds of things, that we need to ensure that our elections are solid. The Help America Vote Act, there’s no more money left in that act, to be able to give money to states to be able to replace their voting machines. Some of those machines are over 20 years old, so we as a country, and this is not something that has just come to light since Mr. Trump has been in office, but for quite some time we have not done enough as a nation to invest in the elections process, starting with the machines that we use to count those votes in the states across this country.
AARON MATÉ: You mentioned this effort to scare voters. Is that what this commission is for, simply an effort to intimidate those who want to expand democracy, make it easier for everyone to vote?
NINA TURNER : Yeah. I mean, it’s crystal clear what he’s up to. I mean, if he really cared about elections integrity, he certainly would not have made a secretary of state from Kansas, Kris Kobach, the vice chair of this commission. It is very clear, because he is the poster child for voter suppression, and the big purge to throw millions and millions of people off of voter rolls in this country. In the presidential election, almost 50%, almost 50% of eligible voters did not even bother to vote in the presidential election. What does that tell us? That we need to do a better job of creating pathways and opportunities so that people can vote, that they feel like their voices can be heard, so that they will participate in the process.
Not do things to bully and intimidate people, and Aaron as you laid out, some of the information that they’re requesting, the irony here is that Secretary Kobach sent out this letter and was asking for social security numbers, when even in his own state social security numbers can’t be given out. He couldn’t even comply with his own request from his own state. The irony of that, it just makes no sense, and you want people’s criminal backgrounds. What does that do with their party affiliation? They just want a lot of data so that they can intimidate people across this country. I am proud that both red and blue states, meaning states where the secretary of state is both a Democrat and Republican, states like Mississippi and other states like that, that they are saying, “No way, you are not going to get this kind of information.” I’m really happy.
If there’s any glimmer of hope there, it is that these secretary of states are united in saying that, “This is wrong” and it’s a big waste of money, too, Aaron. It’s a waste of the taxpayers dollars.
AARON MATÉ: On the issue of Kobach, who as you say requested all this information, he has ties to white supremacists. He was involved with a group called FAIR, Federations for American Immigration Reform, which some people see as a hate group.
NINA TURNER : And very troubling. You know, people are judged by the company they keep. I mean, I’m not going to say that the man is or is not, but that’s a bit disturbing.
AARON MATÉ: In terms of making the vote more accessible, what do you think should be done? If this election commission actually was doing its job.
NINA TURNER : Well first of all, making sure, because they just, I think the House Appropriations Committee just defunded the Elections Assistance Commission, which their sole job was to make sure that the voting machines that various states used or use are up to standards, and are in compliance. That was one of their roles, and so the fact that the House Appropriations Committee has just defunded them, coupled with the fact that this so-called Election Integrity Commission is really bad, so I would say that they should make sure that we fund the EAC in a way that they can do their job to make sure that elections are protected. There are bills pending right now. I mean, we should make voting a national holiday. We should do some automatic voting registration.
We should be doing the things that help to expand the vote, making sure that 16 and 17-year-olds, helping states that want to push forward or leading the charge to create an environment that is more voter friendly than what it is right now. But certainly not what they’re doing, and the names should not be called the “Election Integrity Commission.” It should be the Elections Lack of Integrity Commission. “We want to scare the hell out of you so nobody votes, commission.”
AARON MATÉ: Finally Senator Turner, you’re the President now of Our Revolution. You’ve been going around the country, giving speeches, meeting with activists and voters. What’s your sense right now of where people are at, in terms of organizing for 2018 and 2020, around issues like voter suppression, and the other issues that are important to people’s lives?
NINA TURNER : Yeah, I mean people are gearing up and there are lots of wonderful organizations, not just Our Revolution, but voting rights and voting access is in our wheelhouse, and we’re going to continue to push that. You know, Aaron, that’s not the most sexiest thing, it doesn’t get a lot of media play, but all of the things, for progressive or anybody that really cares about what is happening in this country and how we will the people’s power, and that means you have to support people who you believe in, and help them win office. Well, the way that the average American can do that is through the ballot box.
If they have barriers to the ballot box that impacts their ability to let their voice be heard, so voting rights will always, always be in our top five issues to continue to push and fight for, and also just to remind people that their voice does matter. It is so hard in this toxic political environment, the everyday person in this country they get left out so much, and I know it’s hard for them to believe at times that their voice does matter, so Our Revolution is one of those organizations taking the lead, along with some other organizations. I really do want to thank people like Ari Berman, who writes for the Nation Magazine. He continues to write, voting rights is his area expertise.
Organizations like the Brennan Institute, the National NAACP, and organizations like that who continue to focus in on the voting rights space. We have to do … The Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. They gutted the Voting Rights Act, which was one of the most pivotal civil rights legislation, one of the most pivotal pieces of legislation of the 20th century, they gutted that. But with that comes an opportunity for Congress to enhance and strengthen it, so I would like to see the Congress do that. It just really breaks my heart that this has to be a partisan issue. It should not, because people who run for office should be the last people who want to suppress the vote.
What you should do is want more people to participate in the process which will make our democracy stronger, more robust, and then compete for those votes. Don’t cheat, compete for those votes. Yet, we find ourselves time and time again, and predominately Republicans have done everything in their power since President Obama was elected in 2008, to try to suppress the vote at every turn, whether it’s strict voter ID or whether it’s disenfranchising college students, the elderly, people of color. You name it, they have done it. I just hope that people are reinvigorated about why it is important that we protect the voting space, because that really is the only space where we are truly equal. We’re one woman, one man, and it doesn’t matter, your social economic status, your gender, your sexual orientation, your religion, none of those variables matter.
When you step into the polling place and when you get ready to cast your ballot, you are equal. It is one of the greatest equalizers that we have in this country and Our Revolution is committed to continuing to give voice to this and helping to push policies that will restore voter access.
AARON MATÉ: Senator Nina Turner, President of Our Revolution and the Host of the Nina Turner Show here on The Real News. Senator Turner, thank you.
NINA TURNER : Thank you, Aaron.
AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.