Mass Evictions: Trump’s Other Voter Suppression Strategy

by on August 18, 2020

Displaced Tenants Could Lose Voting Rights

Millions of American voters face losing their homes prior to the November election. And Trump  shenanigans around the U.S. Postal Service make re-registering to vote post-September a very uncertain path.

Trump admitted that defunding the post office is part of his re-election strategy. Facilitating the pre-election eviction of tens of millions of low-income voters helps his chances far more. Black and Brown renters are disproportionately at risk of eviction, and both constituencies overwhelmingly favor Biden over Trump.

Denying tenants a permanent address for voter registration is a very effective voter suppression.  It’s even more effective when coupled with warnings of “voter fraud” prosecutions from Republican Governors and/or Secretary’s of State toward tenants voting at their former address. This combination of denying registrations and threatening criminal fraud to those voting at their former address suppressed enough Black votes in Ohio in 2004 to give George W. Bush the White House in 2004.

Obtaining new permanent housing will not be easy. It’s difficult to obtain new housing with a recent eviction on your record; when you also lack a current job it can become near impossible. Yet we are putting potentially millions of tenants in the untenable position of needing new permanent housing just as state vote registration deadlines expire.

Or for October evictions after they expire. True, people can register to vote while unhoused. But the vast majority do not. Registering to vote is not easy in many cities and states, and its easy to see  recently evicted tenants simply giving up trying to navigate the registration process as the  deadline nears.

Given the huge volume of tenants facing eviction, hundreds of thousands of voters could lose their voting rights for November. And their disenfranchisement could swing key states to Trump.

Evictions as Voter Suppression

If you think that evictions as voter suppression is some wild conspiracy theory, that’s exactly what Trump’s defenders said about his defunding the post office. That was a “hoax” until Trump admitted it.

Consider what has led to the current eviction crisis.

Led by Diane Yentel and the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), a national coalition of housing groups got the House of Representatives in May to allocate $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to stop evictions. This part of the $3 trillion Heroes Act ensured that the vast majority of tenants unable to pay rent due to COVID-19 would be able to stay in their homes.

Because the Heroes Act included provisions that many assumed Republican Senators and the White House would support—-such as extending unemployment insurance and aid to cities and states— some form of a stimulus package was expected to pass before the August congressional resource. Trump could take credit for putting money in the hands of voters and GOP Senators could highlight how they boosted local economies.

But the normal political logic did not apply.

Reports leaked weeks ago that Trump would not agree to any stimulus deal that included post office funding. Trump confirmed this last week. But his chief voter suppression strategy backfired by impacting the older, white rural voters who are Trump’s core base. Trump also made the mistake of admitting his strategy.

Voter suppression through mass tenant evictions does not impact Trump’s primarily homeowner base. To the contrary, it potentially reduces renter voting in cities like Cleveland, a Democratic stronghold where a strong tenant turnout is essential for Biden-Harris to carry Ohio.

It’s the swing states with Republican Governors or GOP legislative control where local protections are absent and federal eviction assistance is most needed. Those evicted after September 30 may lose their voting rights this November, or face threats of criminal prosecution for exercising it.

What Must Be Done

Activists have two options, which are not mutually exclusive.

First, keep pressuring the Senate to pass an emergency rental assistance bill. This really means targeting GOP senators facing tough re-election fights.

Second, every blue city and state must extend eviction moratoriums through at least mid-November. Obviously, this is not a solution to the eviction crisis. But it is a solution to the massive voter suppression that will otherwise occur.

Democrats who don’t usually support tenants should be more likely to extend an eviction moratorium that helps get the Democratic vote out in November. And Democrats opposing extending moratoriums past Election Day should be called out as helping re-elect Donald Trump. After all, if tenants are still in place in January a new presidential administration and Senate will likely make passing the Heroes Act their day one priority.

And the threat of mass evictions could be permanently averted.

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Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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