One man embarks on a mission to make democracy great again.
After four years as a member of Missouri’s House of Representatives and another four as its secretary of state, Jason Kander took a chance and ran for the U.S. Senate in 2016.
While the fresh-faced 35-year-old would ultimately come up short in his bid to unseat incumbent Sen. Roy Blunt in the 2016 election, the race was a whole lot closer than many expected. A Democrat in a traditionally red state, Kander came within just 3 points of Blunt. For comparison, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton lost the state by 19 points.
Though unsuccessful, the campaign helped Kander reach a whole new audience when one of his ads — in which he, a former Army captain and Afghanistan veteran, assembled a rifle while blindfolded — went viral. In defeat, Kander’s star only continued to rise.
Within days of the election, political insiders began speculating what Kander’s next move could be, with some even floating him as a possible presidential candidate in 2020.
But that’s not in the cards for him — at least not yet.
In his final days as Missouri’s secretary of state, Kander delivered an impassioned plea to the state’s lawmakers, asking them to show restraint when it comes to implementing new laws that would suppress voter turnout.
“I’m going to be brief today because I recognize that most of you and your families didn’t come here today to listen to me,” he said. “And frankly, most of you are not going to like what it is I have to say.”
What followed was a powerful case against disenfranchising eligible voters in the name of stopping voter-impersonation fraud, a cause close to his heart that would follow him to his next endeavor.
“We have actually already had this debate in America,” said Kander. “American heroes faced down batons and dogs and firehoses to march across a bridge in Selma.”
Fresh out of office, on Feb. 7, Kander announced the launch of Let America Vote, a national organization dedicated to fighting voter suppression.
Though those who support voting restrictions such as voter ID laws claim their purpose is to prevent voter fraud, in effect, those laws only make it harder for eligible voters to cast a ballot.
The problem with restrictive voter ID measures goes far beyond Missouri, and Kander knows this. That’s why the former chief election official is making it his mission to fight the wave of ongoing voter suppression efforts happening now in at least 20 states. Combine that with the fact that President Trump has made repeated claims that there were more than 3 million ballots illegally cast in the 2016 election (even though the data shows that to be untrue), and it’s pretty clear that someone needs to step up to defend the right to vote.
Kander wants to be that someone.
But let’s start with the basics. Why are voter ID laws a bad idea?
“The only kind of fraud that a photo ID law can even claim to prevent is voter-impersonation fraud,” Kander tells Upworthy. “There’s never been a reported case of voter-impersonation fraud in Missouri, and it’s so rare nationally that Americans are more likely to be struck by lightning than they are to commit voter-impersonation fraud.”
In Missouri, Kander points out, there were over 200,000 “eligible, registered, legal voters” who didn’t have the specific type of ID that many lawmakers have proposed making a requirement to vote.
It’s those kinds of requirements that he says make it clear that voter ID laws are “a policy that is meant to be a solution to an imaginary problem of voter-impersonation fraud — or at least a very, very uncommon problem of voter-impersonation fraud.”
The people most likely to be negatively affected by voter ID restrictions are people of color, low-income individuals, and students.
Voter ID laws are often coupled with restrictions on things like early voting, automatic voter registration, and same-day registration.
A voter ID law “is a Republican, partisan solution to the problem that certain people are very unlikely to vote for Republicans,” Kander says.
He’s not wrong, either. Political scientists at University of California, San Diego found that when strict voter ID laws are in place, Democratic turnout drops by an estimated 7.7 percentage points; turnout for Republicans declines by just 4.6 points. When you look at the effect that has on a national scale, it amounts to millions of additional eligible voters turned away on Election Day.
How much potential voter-impersonation fraud does this cut down on? According to a study done by Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School Los Angeles, just 31 cases out of 1 billion votes. Yep, billion. With a B.
The truth is, no matter what your political views are, we should all be able to agree that free and fair elections in which we can all participate are a necessary part of a functioning democracy.
Anything less is, frankly, undemocratic.
“Republican politicians are working very hard to try and have the voter-suppression campaign exist in the mind of Americans in a voter fraud frame of reference, but once you can point out to voters that it actually exists in a partisan wrangling and partisan politics frame of reference, that is when they realize that the true motivations have been exposed, and they’re no longer interested in supporting,” Kander adds. “They no longer consider it to be anything other than un-American.”
In the past, we could count on the courts to shoot down some of the more egregious attempts at voter suppression. But given the 2013 Supreme Court decision to cut down key elements of the Voting Rights Act, the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general, and the president’s own belief that there’s widespread voter fraud, it’s more important than ever for everyday people to get involved in reshaping the narrative around these laws.
Today, it may be the party you support that benefits most from these laws. But what about a year from now? 10 years from now? A generation from now? What we do now determines what kind of country we aspire to be, and hopefully it’s one where we can agree that regardless of one’s political views, we all have a right to stand up and be counted.
For more information and to get involved, sign up on Let America Vote’s website.