Summary: Activist groups on the Left enjoy using the term “Jim Crow 2.0” to describe almost any election integrity measure, such as voter ID. Under cover of this phony narrative, these well-financed organizations are teaming up with the government to make up what should quite accurately be called Tammany Hall 2.0. In the late 19th century, progressive reformers fought Tammany Hall and other powerful political machines. Today, self-styled progressives are part of Tammany Hall 2.0. Like in the past, the objective is to winning elections by any means necessary.
Activist groups on the Left enjoy using the term “Jim Crow 2.0” to describe almost any election integrity measure, such as voter ID. Even President Joe Biden joined in when delivering some of his most fiery speeches in the lead-up to the 2022 midterm elections.
The absurdity of comparing voter ID to Jim Crow, which represented 100 years of Southern States imposing blatantly racist and unconstitutional laws should speak for itself. Jim Crow 2.0 is a phony narrative, as these politicians and pressure groups on the Left used “voter suppression” for sloganeering but haven’t produced evidence of it happening in modern times.
As explained in my book, The Myth of Voter Suppression: The Left’s Assault on Clean Elections, it takes big money to spread a big lie. Under the Biden administration, these well-financed organizations are teaming up with the government to make up what should quite accurately be called Tammany Hall 2.0. Tammany Hall was the powerful New York Democrat political machine, originally co-founded by Aaron Burr, that had national reach in the party well into the 20th century.
Organizations financed by the likes of George Soros and Arabella Advisors among others fight needed election reforms today by wrapping themselves in a flag of social justice arguments. Quite similarly, the original Tammany Hall and other big city machines often cast themselves as the defender of the working men, insisting that measures such as voter registration and the secret ballot were too harsh for low-income or illiterate voters.
One thing, the real Jim Crow era in the agrarian South, had in common with Tammany Hall and the other political machines concentrated in industrial big cities was that each focused heavily on warping election laws to ensure Democrats would win elections and stay in power.
A significant difference is that in the late 19th century, progressive reformers fought the powerful machines. Today, self-styled progressives are part of Tammany Hall 2.0.
More than 20 states passed election reforms in 2021. The reforms varied, but they generally expanded voter ID to mail-in voting, restricted ballot harvesting, and cleaned up voter registration rolls of dead or out-of-towners. Lying about these state laws was a necessary pretext for Tammany Hall 2.0 to attempt to pass the federal election takeover bills that would erase most safeguards. But when even a Democrat-controlled Senate couldn’t ram through a federal election takeover, Biden had an executive order to fall back on.
Much like Tammany Hall, which reigned for nearly two centuries winning elections by any means necessary, today’s arguments and goals are remarkably the same, even if the language, framing, and selling points are altered. The political machines of the past pushed for immigration mills for signing up voters, immediately enfranchising the incarcerated or formerly incarcerated, and, of course, smearing every reform from the secret ballot and requiring voter registration, and today voter ID.
Also, keep in mind, that Tammany, the Pendergast machine in Missouri, the Daley machine in Chicago, and other machines across the country stayed in power largely by tying government force to political campaigns and linking social services and government jobs with votes.
Federal power partnering with politicized groups to sway elections lacks the shock value of the FBI spying on parents at school board meetings or IRS agents showing up at the home of a journalist critical of the Biden administration. But this is every bit as much of a problem of weaponizing the federal government.
Demos: “Act as Voter Registration Agencies”
By themselves, one can dismiss various disparate nonprofits operating with a common goal. What makes it much more like a nationalized Tammany Hall was President Biden signing Executive Order 14019 “Promoting Access to Voting” in March 2021. It sounds harmless, even noble.
The Biden executive order calls for “soliciting and facilitating approved, nonpartisan third-party organizations and state officials to provide voter registration services on agency premises.”
Don’t worry. It’s nonpartisan. The fact is the bulk of nonprofit organizations—save for political action committees—are legally nonpartisan, meaning they don’t endorse or contribute to political candidates. However, many of these same organizations are not nonpolitical, instead involving themselves in advancing certain policies on the Right and the Left.
For two years, federal agencies kept it secret from inquiring members of Congress and watchdog groups about which organizations were partners in Biden’s federal-sponsored get-out-the-vote effort. The Justice Department claimed in litigation last fall that releasing its strategic plan would create “public confusion.”
Finally, in June, the Indian Health Service admitted it was working with the highly politicized American Civil Liberties Union and the dark-money group Demos, as well as Native American advocacy organizations to implement Biden’s executive order.
One should expect Demos to be involved. The New York City–based liberal think tank wrote the draft for the executive order on December 3, 2020, in a report titled “Executive Action to Advance Democracy: What the Biden-Harris Administration and the Agencies Can Do to Build a More Inclusive Democracy.”
The first of the six recommendations says, “The Biden-Harris administration can make voting more accessible by directing specified federal agencies, in their administration of federal programs, to act as voter registration agencies.”
By March 2021, Biden’s executive order read, “Agencies shall consider ways to expand citizens’ opportunities to register to vote and to obtain information about, and participate in, the electoral process.”
Importantly, when Demos made the voting recommendations to the incoming Biden administration, K. Sabeel Rahman was the president of Demos and Chiraag Bains was the Demos legal strategies director. In early 2021, Biden appointed Rahman and Bains as top-level White House advisers. Rahman became senior counsel for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees regulation, and Bains became the deputy director of racial justice and equity for the Domestic Policy Council. The executive order identifies the Domestic Policy Council as taking the lead on the voting policy.
In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Bains co-wrote a piece on the Demos website that said any criticism of expanded mail-in-voting would be an attempt at voter suppression.
In April 2021, Biden named Justin Levitt, a former Demos lawyer, as his senior policy advisor for democracy and voting rights.
While other groups on the Left often attempt to sound reasonable and pragmatic, Demos is more brazen and uses phrases like “transforming America,” “rethinking capitalism,” and “global governance.” Demos’s Democracy Program strikes one of its least-threatening tones. Don’t be fooled. It’s about weaponizing the federal government to sign up as many Democrat voters as possible.
The Center for Public Integrity classifies Demos as a “dark money” group since it doesn’t disclose its donors. The Democracy Alliance, a consortium of progressive donors, lists Demos as a “recommended organization” and previously listed Demos as a “2020 Vision Investment Portfolio.”
Still, in past years Demos has listed some of its funders, while other organizations have touted grants to the left-wing group. Records show the Tides Foundation contributed more than $1 million to Demos over the years. The Ford Foundation gave more than $1 million, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave at least $850,000 to Demos.
Over several years, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation gave about $470,000, the Surdna Foundation gave about $370,000, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund gave $268,000, and the Rockefeller Family Fund gave about $190,000.
Demos has frequently pushed the “voter suppression” lie. The group published a March 2017 piece on its website trying to explain away President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory with an article titled, “Voter Suppression Works,” relying on a discredited report by the left-wing Priorities USA and Civic Analytics. The report claimed Wisconsin’s voter ID law depressed turnout by 200,000 votes. Those findings were ruled “mostly false” by PolitiFact, a left-leaning outlet.
Image Credit: Tammany Hall Wikimedia Commons
As we move through 2023 and into the next election cycle, The Prickly Pear will resume Take Action recommendations and information.