The Slatest

Did the Republican War on Voting Rights Help Trump Win?

Was Republican voter suppression a factor in two key swing states?

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Donald Trump clinched the presidency by securing victories in two critical swing states: Wisconsin and North Carolina. In Wisconsin, Trump won by about 3 percentage points; in North Carolina, 4. It is, of course, impossible to know what factors contributed to Trump’s victories in these states. But it is certainly worth noting that each engaged in extensive and carefully coordinated voter suppression in the years preceding the election.

In Wisconsin, the Republican-dominated Legislature passed a series of “reforms” designed to suppress the votes of minorities and college students. The Legislature slashed early voting, especially in minority communities, and passed draconian new voter ID requirements that effectively disenfranchised many underprivileged black voters. One federal judge found that the Legislature had explicitly targeted certain black people on the basis of race and attempted to suppress their votes. But an appeals court pushed back against several district court rulings softening the law, leaving much of it in place for the 2016 election. As a result, many people were unable to obtain necessary identification documents and cast ballots in Wisconsin this year.


The story was similar in North Carolina. After the Supreme Court freed the state’s election laws from federal oversight, the Legislature passed an omnibus bill seriously curtailing voting rights. In the words of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, the bill “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision,” slashing early voting on days that blacks disproportionately favored. Although the 4th Circuit blocked the legislation from taking effect, Republican-controlled county election boards implemented the early voting cuts anyway. The state also dramatically reduced the number of polling places throughout the state.

As a result, more voters had less time to cast ballots and were forced to wait in longer lines at less convenient locations. Most voters inconvenienced by these changes were minorities—as were a majority of voters illegally purged from the rolls by Republican activists in the months before the election. Some, but not all, of these purged voters’ rights were restored in time for Election Day.

Trump’s margin of victory in both states was not so tiny that we can assume disenfranchisement was a contributing factor. But it seems possible that the assault on voting rights contributed to his success. As the Nation’s voting rights expert Ari Berman wrote on Tuesday night, thousands of voters had to “jump through hoops” just to vote this year. “How many,” he wondered, simply “gave up?”

See more Slate coverage of the election.