Here's How Politicians Pick Their Voters : The NPR Politics Podcast In the latest installment of our book club, Danielle Kurtzleben talks to professor Carol Anderson about the ways in which redistricting and state voter restrictions work to shape who really has a say in elections.

One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, by Carol Anderson

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Here's How Politicians Pick Their Voters

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Hey there. It is the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Danielle Kurtzleben. I cover politics. We're going deep on voting rights for our book club, which is a chance for our listeners to connect over books about politics. And our pick today is "One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy." Its author is Carol Anderson. She is the Charles Howard Candler professor of African American Studies at Emory University, and she is with us today. Welcome, Carol.

CAROL ANDERSON: Thank you so much for having me, Danielle.

KURTZLEBEN: Start off by talking us through what the book is about and why you wrote it.

ANDERSON: The why is the 2016 election. And we all remember that election, and we remember the results. And one of the things that struck me was that the pundits kept saying, well, you know, Hillary lost because Black folks just didn't show up. And, you know, Black folks didn't show up for Hillary because, you know, Lord, she's Hillary. And Black folks don't like Hillary 'cause, you know, she's Hillary. And this narrative of Black folks just didn't show up because Black folks don't like Hillary just - it struck me wrong because this was the first presidential election in 50 years without the protection of the Voting Rights Act. And to me, that had a lot to do with the 7% drop in Black voter turnout in 2016. And so I set out to make clear what the Wizard of Oz really looked like, to take us behind the curtain, to see the little man pulling the levers going, I am the Wizard of Oz, so that we can actually really see what's going on. Because I thought if we could make it clear what is going on, we could have a really, truly engaged citizenry and discussion about the dangers of these voter suppression laws.

KURTZLEBEN: There are a lot of Americans, a majority of Americans by a lot of polls, who support voter ID laws. And I'm wondering, what do you make of that fact? Does that mean that voting rights advocates have to make their case a different way? Why has making this case been so hard for people on your side of the debate?

ANDERSON: And it's been so hard because you get the language of massive, rampant voter fraud. You hear all of these stories. You hear these politicians. I mean, you think about the 2020 election and how much we heard about voter fraud, voter fraud, voter fraud, stolen election, they're stealing the election and that you get this language that democracy is under threat from these folks who have no concern about democracy and will fraudulently stuff the ballot box. But the reality is so different. The reality about the lie of voter fraud - and I'm calling it a lie - of massive, rampant voter fraud - Justin Levitt, a California law professor, did a study from 2000 to 2014. Out of 1 billion votes cast - OK, that's Carl Sagan-ish (ph) - billion votes cast...

KURTZLEBEN: (Laughter).

ANDERSON: ...There were 31 cases of voter impersonation fraud over 15 years out of 1 billion votes cast. And then you get the relatively milquetoast response, well, just show your ID. So when you had Trump saying, how hard can it be? You got to show an ID to buy groceries. Everybody has a driver's license. No, everybody does not. Because the way that these states wrote these voter ID laws was that they looked at the racial disparities about who had what types of laws and then privilege the types of IDs that whites overwhelmingly had. Or you see them tweaking the laws. So in North Dakota, that legislature rewrote the voter ID law to say, you have to have a physical address on your government-issued photo ID, knowing good and doggone well that 61% of Native Americans in North Dakota lived on reservations, and the reservations did not have a physical address. That was a way to eliminate that population from the electorate. I mean, so it's those sorts of tweaks. It's Alabama that says you must have a government-issued photo ID, but your public housing ID does not count. Now, does it get more government-issued than public housing? But that ID does not count. It's Texas that said, you must have a government-issued photo ID, but your student ID from a state college or university does not count, but your concealed weapon card does.


ANDERSON: Yeah. There's a racial disparity between those who go to college and those who have a concealed weapon card. And so 80% of those who have the concealed weapon ID are white.


ANDERSON: Fifty percent of those in Texas' state colleges and universities are people of color.

KURTZLEBEN: I want to jump back to the topic of voter fraud, specifically, because, as you pointed out, it remains a straw man problem in American politics. It's also - it discredits the whole system (laughter). And so I'm curious, how do you connect voter fraud with this just epidemic of distrust of government, of elections, all of that?

ANDERSON: It's about having people put their trust in individuals - you know, I alone can fix it - instead of in the broader system, that the system, actually, can do the job. So it's like, this person - so you will like your congressperson, but you will hate the system that you're voting for your congressperson to be in. It is saying that you can't think about, again, what led to the insurrection. It was the big lie. And notice how the lie is associated with race, even though it's barely subtle. So it is Newt Gingrich saying, they stole the election in Milwaukee. They stole the election in Philadelphia. They stole the election in Atlanta. Those are all cities that have sizable Black populations. When you link the theft of American democracy to African Americans who are criminalized anyway in the American psyche - you know, so it's easy to say, Black people, criminals, stole the election, and it becomes logical. It becomes a way that you just say, yeah, that's what happened here. That's what happened here.

KURTZLEBEN: I want to move to even more current events. I'm curious what you make of redistricting this cycle, since gerrymandering has long been used as a way of marginalizing voters of color. What have you been seeing in how the maps have been redrawn?

ANDERSON: Oh, what I've seen, for instance, in Ohio, where the voters came out and they said, we want fair maps. We want maps that really represent one person, one vote. And we've got this redistricting commission that's going to do this. What you saw were maps that were unfair. And so they had to keep going back to the Ohio Supreme Court. And the Ohio Supreme Court would knock down those maps going, these maps aren't fair. These maps aren't fair. And then you had the Republicans saying, but it's too close to the primary; we can't redraw these maps. You had three doggone attempts to get it right with enough time. You chose to not do so. And so part of what we're seeing here is trying to run out the clock and to be able to have free and fair elections on unfair and unfree maps. One of the things that I lay out in "One Person, No Vote" is that when you look at the national polls on key issues like climate change, like gun safety laws, like abortion - when you look at those polls, you see the American people on one side. When you look at the policies that emanate out of our legislative bodies, they're hunkering down, not doing that. And you have to ask yourself, wait a minute. If you have so many people who want this, why aren't we seeing that reflected in the policies? Gerrymandering.

KURTZLEBEN: All right. We're going to take a quick break. More of my conversation with Carol Anderson after we get back.

And we're back. And I did want to get to listener questions. We did get a couple that came in on Twitter, and this is one from @cola1916. I don't have a full name. I apologize. And it's this - I've heard that voter suppression laws don't actually decrease voting because they lead to an increase in voter awareness and enthusiasm. But we saw wildly high rates of rejected ballots in the Texas primaries. Does the changing nature of voter suppression laws change their impact?

ANDERSON: Hmm. OK. So one of the things is - so I'm going to deal first with that initial premise that voter suppression laws don't have an impact because they kick folks off (laughter); they energize people. Think about how you then have to realize, OK, I may have to stand in line for 11 hours to vote and how that impacts how you're thinking about child care, how you're thinking about losing pay from work because you're going to be standing in line for 11 hours to vote - the strong possibility of that. We should not be doing that to American citizens. We should not be saying, OK, this is the obstacle, this is the hurdle that you have to jump over in order to be able to vote. And not everybody else is going to have to jump over that hurdle. But you are going to have to jump over that hurdle. We should not be doing that. So that initial premise is just so fundamentally wrong.

And one of the things that we also see is that it was how there's no longer a so-called poll tax, basically, legally, but there are different versions of a poll tax. So requiring people to stand in line for 10, 11 hours to vote, costing them pay is a poll tax. There isn't a literacy test, particularly, because that is also illegal. But there are literacy tests because you have in areas that have large non-English speaking populations who are American citizens, you have ballots that are English only. You have the denial of being able to have translators there in the polling stations. You know, so you have these elements in there. And so you see that the elements of how do we stop key populations from voting, they morph over time, but their core value is still the same - we've got to stop these folks from voting. And that's what we have to deal with.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. And the prospect of voting out of spite also feels like a fundamentally un-American prospect when you think about it.

ANDERSON: Right, right.

KURTZLEBEN: All right. I want to wrap this up with a final question about politics. I'm curious about whether you think the Biden administration and congressional Democrats have taken this problem seriously enough about whether they've pushed hard enough on voting rights. Because what you hear a lot of from activists - my colleague Juana Summers has reported a lot on this - activists say, you know, we can't out-organize and out-motivate forever without legislative support. And I'm wondering, how do you think about this?

ANDERSON: Amen. So - I mean, so one of the things that happened after 2020, you had this incredible turnout in 2020 and then you had legislation that did - has a two-pronged motion. One of those prongs is, how do we stop these folks from voting? How do we create enough obstacles so that they give up and don't turn out? But the second thing is like, yeah, but we know they can get ticked. We have seen them stand in line for 11 hours to vote. You know, we have seen them trudge through almost the hell that we have put up here to get to the ballot box. We have ticked them off.

So the second component in this is, how do we control who certifies the election? How do we control who counts the votes? And so you're seeing legislation coming through that is designed to counter whatever that massive turnout will be by determining who will count the votes, who will certify the election, who will control the county boards of elections. That federal legislation that got stalled was going to deal with that. It dealt not only with opening up access to the ballot box but overriding state laws that were about decertifying elections, overriding the will of the voters. The people who blocked American citizens from accessing the ballot box and the Supreme Court decision that helped make that happen will be in the same category of the way that we look at Jim Crow and the way that we look at Plessy v. Ferguson.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you so much for talking with us. This has been great.

ANDERSON: Thank you so much, Danielle. I've loved this conversation.

KURTZLEBEN: And we want to remind all of you listeners that our next book is "The Hispanic Republican" by Geraldo Cadava. It should be super timely ahead of the midterms. We will be talking about that in July. So please check out, buy, listen. However you consume books, go get it. And to join in our discussion of that book, join our Facebook group at so you can be there and ready when we talk about it and when we announce the next next book. Until then, I'm Danielle Kurtzleben, and thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.


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