One of the foremost agitators of the Trump administration is turning its sights on state governments in the hope it can turn the tide of voter suppression efforts.
American Oversight, which launched after the 2016 election with the goal of digging into the unseemly underpinnings of the current president, is launching what it calls a “State Accountability Project.”
The objective is, in practice, similar to what the organization currently does. But this time, the target is different. Instead of trying to unearth evidence of corruption and political malfeasance inside the White House, American Oversight will be looking into state governments to dig up the actual motivations, communications, and moneyed interests behind restrictive voter laws—and to potentially tie them back to national figures like former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the Heritage Foundation's Hans von Spakovsky, or Trump administration officials themselves.
“Voter suppression is the corruption of democracy itself, and most of that corruption isn't happening in Washington, DC, but in the state and local governments that set the rules for voting,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “American Oversight has spent two years using public records requests and litigation to expose the truth and hold federal officials accountable, and we're now using that same model to fight corruption in the states.”
Few organizations have had as much success in going after the Trump administration as American Oversight, which, among other things, has unearthed former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s calendars, discovered Ivanka Trump’s use of private email, and surfaced evidence of the DOJ pushing for an investigation of Hillary Clinton. And its ascent has been a testament to the notion that modern political success is predicated more on investigative muscle (see: Clinton Cash, email leaks, etc...) than more traditional elements like media strategies and messaging.
That the group is expanding its scope beyond D.C. illustrates the degree to which Democrats writ large have both embraced that notion and recognize that the structural hurdles they face extend far beyond Trump.
Few hurdles have been more vexing for the party—and vital for its future—than voting laws.
While progress has been made in expanding the franchise in various states, others have continued to pursue laws that seem designed to limit the ability of minorities and students to vote. In Florida, where ex-felons were just given back the right to vote in 2018, lawmakers have passed a bill that would now require them to pay back all outstanding government fees, fines and court costs before exercising their voting rights—a provision compared unfavorably to a poll tax. In Georgia, state lawmakers undertook what appeared to be a systematic effort to restrict voter registration and access to polling sites. And in New Hampshire, a push is underway to effectively stop college students from voting in the 2020 elections unless they are natives of the state.
These and other incidents have already drawn national attention—and in the case of Georgia, House Democrats have begun investigating the matter. But America Oversight is looking to fill a niche that no other national group have yet to tackle. The organization, which is comprised of former Obama administration lawyers and political operatives, has already filed nearly 50 public records requests with state and county officials in Florida, Georgia, and Texas.
"For many Americans, corruption in the state house can do more immediate harm than the latest drama in the White House. Between one party control and the decline in funding for local journalism, there is often no one watching out for misconduct by state and local officials, and corruption has been allowed to flourish nearly unchecked,” said Evers.