In Part 1 (Jan. 23, 2017) of this post we discussed how Republicans, using wedge issues like abortion, contraception, immigration, LBGT rights, guns and religion, successfully motivate their voting base to turn out in large enough numbers to make their candidates competitive. In dark red states this is all they need. But it is not enough to win Presidential elections or to control Governorships, Senate seats or state legislatures in the all important swing states. So they have adopted another tried and true strategy to manipulate elections: Voter Suppression.
The United States has a long and ugly history of denying citizens the right to vote and fair access to polling places. Women could not legally vote until 1920. African Americans gained the right to vote via the 15th Amendment in 1870 but in many, particularly Southern states, additional obstacles were imposed on those new voters such as literacy tests, poll taxes, complicated registrations processes and physical and mental intimidation. Native Americans were given citizenship in 1924 but full voting rights for all Native Americans had to wait until 1957! Chinese Americans were not granted the right to vote until 1943.
And even after these groups won the right to vote, often after a long and bruising struggle, many states and organizations continued to do their damndest to stop them. The NAACP was founded primarily to combat these ongoing discriminations against African Americans and was instrumental in pursuing legal challenges to many state laws.
These abuses and intimidations were so horrific that finally, after many decades, the sentiments of the country began to change and the federal government passed the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) along with other voting rights measures.
The tipping point for passing the VRA was the famous Selma to Montgomery (AL) civil rights march in 1965 protesting violence and intimidation of both African American voters and voting rights activists (See the movie “Selma“). Barricaded from entering the city by state troopers, the marchers refused to turn back. The police unleashed tear gas, dogs, nightsticks and whips, seriously injuring many.
Photo above: Edmund Pettus Bridge Selma, Alabama March, 1965
Photo upper right: Not from Selma.
Within days, President Johnson outlined the voting abuses in a speech to Congress: Black voters wrongly turned away at the polls, being forced to fill out extra paperwork, take literacy tests, forced to recite the entire Constitution or explain complex laws.
The Act passed months later on a vote of 77-19 in the Senate and 333-85 in the House — a bipartisan Congressional recognition of the voting llegalities committed in many, but primarily Southern, states. The VRA was credited with significantly increasing African American turnout; in Mississippi alone, in five years, it went from a pathetic 6% to 59%! (All data from History.com/Voting Rights Act).
Fast forward 48 years to 2013, the US Supreme Court heard a case known as Shelby County (AL) v. Holder (as in U.S. Attorney Gerneral Eric Holder). The county sued to have the court declare two vital sections of the VRA unconstitutional. A District Court in Washington DC and an Appeals Court had ruled the sections constitutional. But in a 5-4 Conservative majority decision the Supreme Court ruled against the key sections of the VRA. Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the majority opinion stating the disparate treatment of the states is “based on 40 year old facts that have no logical relationship to the present day” and the country “has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must insure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” Roberts acknowledged the success of the VRA, but declared that the voting record of jurisdictions covered by the VRA today did not demonstrate the ‘pervasive’, ‘flagrant’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination as in 1965.
The dissenting opinions from the four more Liberal justices also noted the vast improvement in voting rights and access in the covered jurisdictions but said these successes were precisely because of the VRA and there was sufficient evidence that removing the determination section of the Act (determining which jurisdictions must be in compliance) would set the stage for a renewal of voting discrimination.
Chief Justice Roberts must have overlooked the following statistics (from brennancenter.org 6/24/14): “In the 15 years before its operation was halted, Section 5 (the main enforcement clause of the VRA) blocked 86 laws through its administrative process and several more through litigation. At least 13 of these laws were blocked in just the final 18 months before the Shelby Court’s ruling.
Its effectiveness went beyond the laws it blocked. In one recent six-year period, 262 voting changes were withdrawn or altered after the Department of Justice (DOJ) asked the jurisdictions for more information to assess whether they were discriminatory under the Voting Rights Act (VRA). That figure does not include the hundreds of voting changes that were deterred because jurisdictions knew they would not withstand VRA review.”
If that’s not an attempt at ongoing discrimination on a “pervasive, flagrant and rampant” level, I don’t know what is. But that’s not all.
In the immediate aftermath of Shelby Co. v Holder, the Brennan Center also noted the following.
The state of Texas moved immediately to implement a strict photo ID law that had been previously blocked by the VRA. An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 Texans did not have photo ID’s of which approximately 300,000 were Latino-Americans.
In North Carolina, the state legislature passed a strict photo ID requirement effecting 300,000 voters in the state, including a large number of African Americans. In addition they also cut back on early voting options and reduced voter registrations times.
Alabama also moved swiftly to implement a strict photo ID law. Not only were African American voters disproportionately effected, but nearly 30% of the state’s voting age population lives more than 10 miles from the nearest driver’s license office and in 11 counties those offices were only open once or twice a week!
Mississippi also quickly passed a photo ID law. Again, nearly 35% of the state’s voting age population lives more than 10 miles from the nearest license office. 13 counties, all with sizable African American populations, lack even a single full-time driver’s license office.
Florida used a different tactic. In 2013 they attempted to purge 180,000 people from the voter’s roll on suspicion they were non-citizens. Turned out that 58% of those had Latino surnames but Latinos only comprise 13% of Florida voters. On final review Florida found fewer than 40 non-citizens that could have voted illegally.
Please notice that at the time the Brennan Center article was written, in all the above examples, the state’s legislatures and governors were in the hands of Republicans.
A report in The Sandbox News from 11/13/12 describes the situation in Florida from a local’s point of view:
“The main source of voting problems can be traced to Republicans, who have tirelessly attempted to convince the state that massive voter fraud is constantly underway (Even though a study by the Justice Department showed the average voter fraud at .00000013 percent of the vote). This time, Republicans came swinging from every angle. Politicians like Governor Rick Scott, Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala), Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff, and Senator Don Gaetz fought to restrict early voting hours. Some conservatives actually fought to keep lines long on voting day. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez (R) closed doors on early voting days. As a result, voters faced 6 hour long waits on Election Day, leaving some people to stand in line until 1 am.”
The list of abuses and attempted abuses goes on and on, further rendering Justice Roberts’ argument mute. To read the full Brennan Center article, go to: http://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/shelby-county-one-year-later
In 2013 and 2014 at least 10 of the 15 states that had been covered wholly or partially by the VRA introduced new restrictive legislation that make it harder for minority voters to cast a ballot. Shelby Co. v Holder makes it much more difficult to track, fight or block these laws.
This is nothing short of a crime against democracy. How can this vial, discriminatory, disgusting practice be legal? The Republican party, its candidates, donors and legislators have conspired to suppress and disenfranchise millions of Americans from voting. Why would a major American political party be engaged in such an un-American activity? It is definitely not because of in-person voting fraud. That is the greatest Republican hoax of all time.
There are so many studies that have been conducted regarding in-person voter fraud that it is truly mind-boggling that Republicans and their minions continue to spread this blatant lie and get away with it. See this website for a list of recent studies:
The study that I have seen most quoted is the 2014 study published in the Washington Post. From 2000 to 2014, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast, only 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud was uncovered.
Not only does this demonstrate incredible integrity in American elections (contrary to Predator Drumpf’s “rigged election” claim) but it begs the question: Why are we disenfranchising millions of American voters and forcing states to spend millions of dollars to provide photo ID’s for a non-existent problem??
Republicans whine like little bitches when Democrats talk about registering all gun sales and mental health background checks. They call this government overreach and an unnecessary invasion privacy. But when it comes to the right to vote, more ID requirements and more government intrusion is perfectly acceptable.
Remember Republicans love to spread unsubstantiated fear to motivate their base….and it works! The real reason behind their voter suppression campaign is because they know they can’t compete head-to-head in enough statewide and national elections if registration is convenient and can be done right up to election day, there are several options to prove voter identity, polling places are open for days (and at least one weekend) before the election, are conveniently located and well staffed, and sufficient voting machines are available at all polls. High voter turnout is the worst possible scenario for Republican candidates.
We have the power to end the Republican crimes against democracy. We do it by VOTING. Voting in such overwhelming numbers, in every election, from school board to President of the U.S., that the true majority in this country cannot be denied a voice, cannot be discriminated against and will no longer be unequal in the eyes of the law.
Historically the United States has one of the worst percentages of voter turnout among the developed countries of the world. We rank 31st out of the top 35 most developed and democratic countries (the OECD — Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development). In recent elections, we have had turnouts of between 50-60% of the voting age population, that average (54%) puts us right behind Poland and just ahead of Chile. Counties with mandatory voting, like Belgium and Turkey lead the pack with high 80’s-90%. France averages about 71%, Germany 64%, Canada 62%. Mexicans vote at 65%.
The full OECD graph:
Why does the U.S. lag so far behind? Because voter intimidation, suppression and disenfranchisement is an integral part of our history. If Americans would vote at 65-70% turnout during every election, this country would look and behave very differently that we do now. We would vote out candidates that supported obvious voter suppression and disenfranchisement schemes. We would give the boot to politicians who were blatantly discriminatory or who were beholden to the rich and powerful. Candidates who promoted lies and conspiracy theories, or who instigated racial or gender hatred would never get elected. It would force our elected officials to more responsive to the actual needs of the people.
Talk about American greatness! This is the way forward. Can we visualize such an America? We must, because our greatness is being threatened by an ideology that wants to DIVIDE AND CONQUER us for their own selfish purposes. They stir hate against African Americans, immigrants, Muslims, Jews and women to motivate middle-class whites, who consistently have the highest voter turnout rates, to vote against their own economic self-interests! Middle class values are very similar regardless of race or ethnicity. But if you are consumed by false threats of gun-stealing liberals or bad hombre immigrants or serial abortion feminists then you’ll vote out of fear rather than voting for better middle-class opportunities.
Think about this: Improved middle class opportunities include reliable, affordable health care; fair tax rates and advantages compared to the wealthier classes; a growth of job opportunities that offer fair, livable wages and long term employment; a superior public education system; affordable higher education options; better job training programs; protection against predatory industries and actions like payday loans, high pressure credit card and insurance scams, risky lending and investment practices by financial institutions; and reasonable and effective regulations to protect us from corporate abuses of our environment.
If you agree that these policies would lead to a better, healthier and more financially secure middle class — then STOP VOTING OUT OF FEAR and STOP VOTING REPUBLICAN! Liberal, progressive and Democratic candidates are much more likely to be supportive and protective on such issues.
If the idea of deliberate Voter Suppression policies disgust you, as they should, we need HIGH VOTER TURNOUT to FIGHT BACK! We fight suppression by voting. Please register to vote. Petition your state legislators to offer early voting, same-day registration and adequate polling places and voting machines in your district. Have your legislators prove significant instances of in-person voting fraud before you allow them to enact mandatory voter photo ID laws. If your state already has voter photo ID laws, start a petition to have a referendum placed on the ballot to overturn the law.
Most of all, find 10 relatives or friends that aren’t registered or don’t usually vote and get them to register and get them off their asses to vote. Organize transportation for your neighbors to get to the polls. Volunteer to help register voters. There’s so much you can do. We must be pro-active.
“’If everybody in this country voted,’ the economist John Kenneth Galbraith said, ‘the Democrats would be in for the next 100 years.’ There is strong evidence to support his claim. A 2007 study by Jan Leighley and Jonathan Nagler found that nonvoters are more economically liberal than voters, preferring government health insurance, easier union organizing and more federal spending on schools. Nonvoters preferred Barack Obama to Mitt Romney by 59 percent to 24 percent, while likely voters were split 47 percent for each, according to a 2012 Pew Research Center poll. Nonvoters are far less likely to identify as Republican, and voters tend to be more opposed to redistribution than nonvoters.”
The only way to force the Republicans (and any political party that relies on unsubstantiated fear to motivate its voters) to change their ways is to defeat them, overwhelming, at the polls. We have the numbers, we can do it. We must exercise our right to vote. As long they can get away with their DIVIDE AND CONQUER strategy they will continue to use it. It’s all they have. By forcing Republicans to change and become more responsive to the needs of the majority of people, we can once again be a country that succeeds by embracing our diversity, by benefitting from bi-partisan, forward thinking solutions, and America can continue to lead the world in promoting democracy, equality and justice.
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