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Fifty Years Later, Voting Rights Still Not Guaranteed

It’s no secret that minorities in America heavily favor the Democratic Party. The reasons are extensive, historical, and multifaceted, but there can be no doubting the statistics. In 2012, 93% of African-Americans, 71% of Hispanics, and 73% of Asians cast their vote for Barack Obama. Republicans can rely on the white vote all they want (Romney won that demographic by 20 points), but with population trends shifting towards a more diverse electorate, most party officials have realized that minorities are the key to future electoral victory. So how does a Republican party, vilified for its poor record on minority rights and with leaders spewing extremely controversial remarks, mitigate the issue? By barring as many minorities from voting as possible.

The post-2012 “autopsy report,” commissioned by the Republican National Committee to help it understand why it had lost so horribly, showed some glaring (though obvious) problems for the party’s future. They realized that asking Hispanics to commit “self-deportation” might have alienated the Hispanic vote, and that being against any kind of immigration reform might not be a good idea. The report recommends establishing “rising star” campaigns to find Asian, African-American, and Hispanic Republicans who seek elected office and help them achieve it. It also advises establishing outreach efforts in predominantly African-American universities to help illustrate the party’s themes, messages, and goals. While these are simple ways to get the vote, and nice things to tell minority voters who make it to the polls, the simple fact is that basic Republican policy is not in the best interest of minorities. Establishing these menial outreach campaigns can swing a few voters, but not enough to have any real impact; the only effective method is to simply block minorities from voting.

The fifteenth amendment of the Constitution bars the denial or abridgment of the right to vote based on race or color. In the hundred years following its passage, various methods were used to keep black voters from getting to the polls without violating the law, including poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses. During the Civil Rights Movement, a key factor was the inclusion of voting rights, as millions of blacks were being kept from voting in the South; in 1962 Mississippi only 6.7% of eligible black voters were registered, and those registered were further discouraged from actually showing up to the polls. The monumental passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped upend such practices, and voter registration for blacks skyrocketed. The VRA outlawed literacy tests and similar discriminatory practices, and sections 4 and 5 required certain states and counties with a history of racial discrimination to gain federal approval before changing electoral laws. This latter portion was struck down in a 5-4 Supreme Court vote in Shelby County v. Holder in June of 2013, stating that section 4(b), which required “preclearance” before electoral changes, violated the values of federalism and state sovereignty in its current form. The majority opined that the country had changed since the VRA had been enacted, naïvely anticipating that stringent protection of voting rights would no longer be necessary.

Within hours of the decision, officials in Texas, Mississippi, and Florida announced they would immediately implement new voter identification laws. Seven states previously required to “preclear” their electoral changes have implemented voter identification laws, with others purging voters from registration, cutting early voting, and eliminating same-day registration. No intelligent person believes this is in the interest of voter protection or in the elimination of voter fraud. While of course some crimes occur without a perpetrator being caught, only 26 of 197,000,000 votes cast between 2002 and 2005 were deemed fraudulent. That is a whopping .00000013% of votes made during that time period. Republican officials in these states have no interest in protecting voters, but rather in disenfranchising minority voters, especially blacks, from voting.

The method for Republicans is now clear: initiate outreach to minority voters and spend millions on advertisements to convince them to vote against their own interests, and secretly manipulate voting rules to prevent them from casting ballots. You see, voter identification is important to Republicans because, surprisingly, 11% of the country does not have proper identification. For every percentage point lost in voter turnout, there is a .5% swing to the Republican candidate. Furthermore, 25% of blacks do not have proper identification, while only 8% of their white counterparts are without it. Poorer voters who do not drive and therefore are without a license cannot afford the documents required to be granted a “free” state ID, and are thereby discouraged from trying to vote. In sum, voter ID laws block overwhelmingly Democratic demographic groups from voting under the guise of resolving a non-existent issue. Why and how this is constitutional is beyond my understanding, but with this Supreme Court anything is possible.

Congress must act now to end electoral laws that blatantly discriminate against minority voters in a transparent attempt to weaken demographic groups that are anti-Republican. Thankfully, Congress is attempting to pass a bipartisan bill, H.R. 3899, which would restore and revamp section 4 of the Voting Rights Act and curb discrimination. It has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it has been for three months and will most likely remain for some time.

Fair elections are the cornerstone of our democracy. Unfortunately for us, true democracy is not always the goal of government bureaucrats and elected officials who seek to protect themselves or their party. If we want real progress in this country, if we want to move out of the 20th century and into the modern era, then eliminating draconian voter laws is the most efficient way of doing that. Without our right to vote we are no better than the dictators and autocrats we so vehemently detest. “One man, one vote.”.  That was the rallying call of the 1960’s voting rights movement. Fifty years later and with little to show for it, we must initiate that call again.

 

-Harry McAlevey

 

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