Election 2020

Did Bernie Sanders Just Accuse His Fellow Dems of Voter Suppression in Michigan?

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks during a campaign rally Monday, March 9, 2020, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

As the polls were about to close in the crucial swing state of Michigan, Sen. Bernie Sanders (S-USSR) appeared to accuse his fellow Democrats of engaging in voter suppression. Sanders won an upset victory in Michigan in 2016, a victory that led him to claim he could create a new Democratic coalition in 2020. Yet former Vice President Joe Biden powerfully defeated Sanders in Michigan on Tuesday, and Sanders may have been crafting a narrative to undermine Biden’s win.

“At a time when Democrats correctly attack Republicans for voter suppression, it is disappointing to see people standing in long lines for hours today waiting to vote in Michigan and around the country,” Sanders said in an official statement released by his campaign. “People should not have to miss a day of work to exercise their right to vote. This is an outrage. Election officials must address these problems immediately, and if necessary, keep polling places open longer.”

He tweeted a nearly identical message, as well.

“At a time when Democrats correctly attack Republicans for voter suppression, to see voters standing in long lines for hours in Michigan and around America is an outrage. Election officials must address these problems immediately, and if necessary, keep polling places open longer,” Bernie tweeted.

Christian Slater, the Michigan Democratic Party’s director of rapid response, told Newsweek that new election rules passed in 2018, including same-day voter registration, were partially to blame for the delays. Michigan voters can register in-person to vote right up to Election Day. This policy likely tied up election staff.

“The Michigan Democratic Party is proud of the state’s new voting rights laws, including same day voter registration, that expand access to the ballot,” Christy Jensen, executive director of the party, said in a statement to Newsweek. “While implementing the new laws can prove difficult, long lines to vote are never acceptable and we hope election officials will take the proper steps to address the issues.”

Sanders has pushed for a broad slate of election reforms in the name of ending “voter suppression.”

“We need to end voter suppression and make it easier for people to vote, not harder,” Bernie tweeted last August. “We need automatic voter registration. We need to make Election Day a national holiday. We need to end gerrymandering. And we need to restore the Voting Rights Act.”

While Michigan’s voting reforms did not go to the radical extremes Sanders demanded, they represented a step in his direction. It is more than a little ironic that the very kind of reforms Bernie wants may have resulted in what he condemns as an “outrage” comparable to voter suppression.

Yet Bernie’s decision to seize on this issue as the results of the Michigan primary came in suggested that he was working to lessen the blow of his devastating loss to Joe Biden. It seems unlikely Bernie will be able to contest the results and call for a recount, but he could craft a narrative that the reason he lost Michigan had less to do with his weaknesses as a candidate or the Democrats’ decision to rally around Biden and more to do with “voter suppression.”

 

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.