In 15 days America goes to the polls to choose a new Congress. At stake are Governor-ships and elected offices down the line to dog-catcher.
The number one issue facing African-Americans, Native -Americans and other people of color today during this crucial time are the roadblocks to voting placed in their way by Republicans.
The Supreme Court in 2013 struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act. A 2016 report from the civil rights coalition Leadership Conference on CHR found local officials had shuttered 868 polling places in the 3 years after the ruling.
Since the ruling, a floodgate of voter suppression activity has been unleashed almost solely in states and municipalities with large African-American, Native -American and Latino communities.
In Georgia, the sitting secretary of state Brian Kemp is on the ballot as the GOP candidate for governor against the Democrats Stacy Abrams a black woman who would become the nation’s first black female governor.
That prospect may have to wait as Hillary Clinton found out, getting more than three million votes than your opponent does not mean you have won.
In his role as referee, and as Candidate, Brian Kemp has reportedly purged more almost a million people from the state’s voting rolls.
This purge for simple things like infrequent voting, and what is called “exact match a law Kemp and his Republican friends created demands gives them the right to remove or at least prevent people from voting for a simple missing hyphen in a name, or a misspelled name.
The most basic right of a citizen in a democracy is the right to vote. Without this right, people can be easily ignored and even abused by their government. This, in fact, is what happened to African-American citizens living in the South following Civil War Reconstruction. Despite the 14th and 15th Amendments guaranteeing the civil rights of black Americans, their right to vote was systematically taken away by white supremacist state governments.
African-Americans have always faced hurdles when trying to vote, this nation has a sordid legacy of oppression and suppression.
In 1890, Mississippi held a convention to write a new state constitution to replace the one in force since Reconstruction. The white leaders of the convention were clear about their intentions. “We came here to exclude the Negro,” declared the convention president. Because of the 15th Amendment, they could not ban blacks from voting. Instead, they wrote into the state constitution a number of voter restrictions making it difficult for most blacks to register to vote.
The impediments placed in the way of blacks are lurid and disgraceful. Doctoral theses are written on the details of those tactics from being required to guess the number of jelly-beans in a jar to violence.
In 1873, a gang of whites in Colfax, Louisiana murdered more than 100 blacks who were assembled to defend Republican officeholders—this was, of course, back when Republicans had some sense. Federal prosecutors indicted three of them, but the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the indictments in U.S. v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542 (1875)
The Geography Of Race In The U.S.
Perhaps the first literacy test aimed at keeping blacks away from the ballot box was South Carolina’s notorious “eight-box” ballot, adopted in 1882. The test, as explained in “The Shaping of Southern Politics: Suffrage Restriction and the Establishment of the One-Party South” by J. Morgan Kousser and “The Law of Democracy,” by Samual Issacharoff, Pamela Karlan and Richard Pildeswent as follows:
Voters had to put ballots for separate offices in separate boxes. A ballot for the governor’s race put in the box for the
The Geography Of Race In The U.S.
If you didn’t have money, you didn’t have a vote:
Georgia initiated the poll tax in
1871,and made it cumulative in 1877 (requiring citizens to pay all back taxes before being permitted to vote). Every former Confederate state followed its lead by 1904. Although these taxes of $1-$2 per year may seem small, it was beyond the reach of many poor black and white sharecroppers, who rarely dealt in cash. The Georgia poll tax probably reduced overall turnout by 16-28%, and black turnout in half (Kousser, The Shaping of Southern Politics, 67-8). The purpose of the tax was plainly to disenfranchise, not to collect revenue,since no state brought prosecutions against any individual for failure to pay the tax.
Source: The Geography Of Race In The U.S.
Sources: Voting Rights: The Poll Tax, Marion Butts Collection, Dallas Public Library and The Geography Of Race In The U.S.
Ridiculous Registration Practices
Even if blacks could read or had money, racist registration practices were created to make their efforts to vote miserable:
Southern states made registration difficult, by requiring frequent re-registration, long terms of residence in a district, registration at inconvenient times (e.g., planting season), provision of information unavailable to many blacks (e.g. street addresses, when black neighborhoods lacked street names and numbers), and so forth. When blacks managed to qualify for the vote even under these measures, registrars would use their discretion to deny them the vote anyway. Alabama’s constitution of 1901 was explicitly designed to disenfranchise blacks by such restrictive and fraudulent means. Despite this, Jackson Giles, a black janitor, qualified for the vote under Alabama’s constitution. He brought suit against Alabama on behalf of himself and 75,000 similarly qualified blacks who had been arbitrarily denied the right to register. The Supreme Court rejected his claim in Giles v. Harris, 189 U.S. 475 (1903).
Source: The Geography Of Race In The U.S.
Today’s tactics are a drastically different, more sophisticated but no less obvious.
Some states, like Wisconsin for example, are trying to pass laws that are requiring people to present birth certificates to certify their eligibility to vote when they never had to before. Take, for example, how this will hurt one senior citizen as reported by the Center for American Progress Action Fund:
For 63 years, Brokaw, Wisconsin native Ruthelle Frank went to the polls to vote. Though paralyzed on her left side since birth, the 84-year-old “fiery woman” voted in every election since 1948 and even got elected herself as a member of the Brokaw Village Board. But because of the state’s new voter ID law, 2012 will be the first year Frank can’t vote. Born after a difficult birth at her home in 1927, Frank never received an official birth certificate. Her mother recorded it in her family Bible and Frank has a certification of baptism from a few months later, along with a Social Security card, a Medicare statement, and a checkbook. But without the official document, she can’t secure the state ID card that the new law requires to vote next year.
“It’s really crazy,” she added. “I’ve got all this proof. You mean to tell me that I’m not a U.S. citizen?” But state officials have informed Frank that, because the state Register of Deeds does have a record of her birth, they can issue her a new birth certificate — for a fee. And because of a spelling error, that fee may be as high as $200:
Though Frank never had a birth certificate, the state Register of Deeds in Madison has a record of her birth. It can generate a birth certificate for her — for a fee. Normally, the cost is $20.
Every ten years, county commissions, state House and Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives are redrawn based on population changes reported in the U.S. Census, the Detroit Free Press reports. The problem with this is that GOP leaders see population growth in black and Latino communities that vote heavily for Democrats and want to spit these Democratic voting bases. Take the state of Michigan for example, as reported by the Detroit Free Press:
Several groups representing African-American and Latino voters have filed a lawsuit challenging the new maps that define the 110 districts for the state House of Representatives.
The state Legislative Black Caucus, the NAACP, UAW and the Latino Americans for Social and Economic Development, along with several individuals filed suit in U.S. District Court in Detroit today. They’re asking for a temporary restraining order, halting the new districts from taking effect while a new map is drawn and approved.
“This is a coordinated assault on our voting rights,” said Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP Detroit branch.
The groups have two main complaints: the new map will force eight Detroit incumbent legislators to run against each other
; anda district that now encompasses most of the primarily Latino population in southwest Detroit has been split into two districts.
The game is the same, but the tactics have changed.
As you contemplate these points and try to make sense of it all, be reminded, however, that the faith you may have had in the Supreme court may be unfounded or misplaced. Much of what has transpired throughout America’s history has happened with the acquiescence of the Supreme Court.
Much of the assault being waged on voting rights by Republicans this cycle, is made possible because the Supreme Court eviscerated the voting rights act.
For no reason other than it worked well.
In her dissent in Shelby County Vs Holder, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg argued, the court’s decision is tantamount to throwing away one’s umbrella in a rainstorm because he isn’t getting wet.
Such was the absurdity and blatant naked partisanship by the Robert’s court.
That Justice Ginsberg’s dissent stands as a scathing reminder of what Republicans are doing to Democracy in America.