Voting Rights & Wrongs

New 'Rules' Work Like Old Restrictions
President Barack Obama recently joined former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Jimmy Carter at the President Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. It is no exaggeration to say that the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act of the following year, were the most transformational political developments of the past century in the United States. It was a difficult, often violent struggle, but in the end what was implicit in the nation’s founding documents finally became explicit in federal law. The Civil Rights Act made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in public accommodations. The Voting Rights Act addressed discrimination in elections, ultimately dismantling a system that had shut African Americans out of voting booths for nearly a hundred years.
 
A few days after his Austin speech the president was in New York City to speak to Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, and he took that opportunity to remind his audience that the struggle for equal rights never ends and to call attention to a disturbing political development. “The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law,” Obama said. “Across the country, Republicans have led efforts to pass laws making it harder, not easier, for people to vote.” With uncharacteristic severity, Obama has called the effort to restrict voting “un-American.”
 
The president’s words were not partisan hyperbole but an accurate description of what some Republican governors and legislatures have been doing. In 2006, the Senate reauthorized the Voting Rights Act by a 98–0 vote, a rare example of bipartisan consensus. Unfortunately, that did not stop the Supreme Court’s five Republican-appointed justices from ruling Section 4 of the act unconstitutional last June. In doing so, the Court removed the requirement that states with long histories of voting discrimination get preapproval from the Justice Department before changing their voting regulations. As a consequence, Republicans in nine states have pushed through laws with strict photo ID requirements as well as a variety of limitations on early voting, extended voting hours (including weekends), same-day registration, and absentee voting. All of these restrictions would disproportionately affect minority voters. Many African Americans, especially those living in cities, do not have the state-issued photo IDs, such as driver’s licenses or passports, required by the laws. Many cannot get to the polls until early evening. Sunday voting, often organized around church services in African American communities, is especially important for increasing turnout. How can prohibiting Sunday voting, as Ohio has just done, be anything but discriminatory?
 
This concerted effort to narrow the voting base has been especially prominent in so-called swing states such as Ohio, Wisconsin, and North Carolina. The Justice Department has already filed lawsuits in North Carolina and Texas to prevent dubious restrictions from taking effect. Attorney General Eric Holder has made it clear that protecting access to the ballot box will be a priority, and he has even called for expanding the voting rights of felons who have paid their debt to society. That is not likely to be a popular cause, but it is a just one.  
 
Whatever one’s political allegiance, transparently partisan attempts to undermine the Voting Rights Act should be worrisome to all Americans. Republicans have long maintained that stricter regulations are needed to curb voting fraud, but evidence of such corruption is almost nonexistent. Now Republicans argue that limiting access to the polls is needed to bring about greater “uniformity” in how voters in different parts of a state are treated. Yet that too sounds like a solution in search of a problem. When it comes to voting, the first priority of those in both parties should be removing unnecessary obstacles and encouraging as many Americans as possible to exercise the franchise. As Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, former chair of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, once put it, “Voting is a civic sacrament.” 
 
Republican legislators should think twice before stifling the voice of the people they seek to represent, for even if partisan advantage is won in the short term, alienating the majority is a sure route to political irrelevance in the long term. Some within the party recognize that danger. Wisconsin state senator Dale Schultz has suggested that his fellow Republicans are digging their own grave in this reckless effort to restrict the voting rights of others. “Making it more difficult for people to vote,” he said, “is not a good sign for a party that wants to attract more people.”  
 
Democracy is first and foremost about the challenge of self-government: citizens not only have the right to select the nation’s lawmakers but also have a responsibility to participate in making those decisions. Trust and faith in the electoral process is as essential as it is fragile. So it is especially disheartening when democratic means are used to ensure undemocratic ends, as these new laws attempt to do. You might even call it un-American.
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"Trust and faith in the electoral process" begins with the system's integrity: we cannot elect leaders based on last-minute surges from the Chicago graveyard, Texas hill country, Jersey City docks, etc. The reason we have laws which establish facially non-racial criteria for voter qualification, i.e., being able to prove who you are, is to protect the integrity of that process.  If we are to let electoral integrity go the way of immigration enforcement, that does not serve democracy, it undermines it.  Being able to prove who you are, being registered to vote by a specific deadline, being registered to vote where you live are not "racist" criteria to "suppress" voting but neutral criteria to ensure that those people who have a right to address issues relevant to a particular locality (remember, Tip O'Neill said "all politics is local") AND ONLY THOSE PEOPLE do.  Being expected to meet a deadline to register means one takes one's franchise responsibility seriously (something we should want, since "spontaneous" voters are hardly the thinking public our Founding Fathers rightly assumed were necessary to deliberate about governance issues.

Mr. Grondelski:  "We" did not elect John F. Kennedy from the Chicago graveyard--I assume that's whom you're referring to.  The fact is that Kennedy would have won the popular vote in Illinois without any votes from Chicago, and he would have won the electoral vote without Illinois.  It's the electoral vote, not the popular vote, that determines who becomes president.  

If you think there is no extensive campaign to suppress the votes of likely Democratic voters in red states, how do you explain limiting or abolishing early voting and weekend voting, and closing polling places in minority neighborhoods?  For that matter, explain why Florida just decided that bathrooms at polling places are to be closed during voting--that's not liquor stores, it's polls.  In 2012 Floridians waited in lines up to six hours to vote, and delivered the state to Obama.  How likely are they to do that in 2016 if the bathrooms are locked?

For the record, the official explanation for Pottygate is that election officials can't be sure that every restroom in a polling place is handicap accessible, and there isn't enough time before 2016 to brIng them into compliance.  They can't even lie convincingly.

1. The 1960 election had certain irregularities.  That said, Chicago elections in general have hardly been the model of electoral integrity.  To be completely unbiased, I added a site in my own home State of New Jersey.  "Vote early, vote often" is not good for electoral integrity.

2. Re voting early: There is a value to the community assembling at a given moment of time to cast its franchise. In a colonial New England that has survived in some places these four centuries, it is the town meeting--which means the town getting together, here and now, not sitting at home and teleconferencing in.  If we don't like "bowling alone," neither should we like voting alone.  The first Tuesday after the first Monday of November has a cultural sanction; tradition is also important for democracy.

Mr. Grondelski: The irregularities you mention -- stuffing the ballot box, in general -- are committed by election officials, not voters. ID laws and shorter voting periods have nothing to do with what happens after the legitimate ballots are cast but everything to do with reducing the number of legitimate ballots that will be cast. If anything, the new laws make ballot box stuffing easier.

John,

To your first point.  Please name an election that did not have "certain irregularities".  "Vote early, vote often" is not good for electoral integrity." is an opinion not a fact.  To your second point, what in the world does "bowling alone" have to do with voter fraud?  Were you waxing eloquent?

Mr. Grondelski, most of us don't live in New England.  Tradition is not a good enough reason to restrict voting when we're living in a world unlike anything the Founders could have imagined.

The first American voters were exclusively white male property owners.  That in itself is a tradition that over time became unacceptable.  

J.G. -- Thank you for the well-stated  comment.

It simply a fact, undeniable, that election fraud has always been and remains today a Democrat Party monopoly.

Night Riders, Jim Crow, Poll Taxes, Eligibility Tests, Grandfather Clauses, the KKK,  Machine Politics, Racil Gerrymandering, Segregation, "Acorn"-- EVERY ONE a Democrat Party political device.   And now the IRS, of all things. Not a smidgeon of evidence?  Huh?

Re. Eric Holder:  Remember the mumbling nothing asthe New Black Panthers blocked the polling place in Philadelphia?  

Soul searching, anyone?  Last I checked this was still a Catholic publication.

 

One is entitled to one's own opinion but not one's own facts.

Kenneth: Democrats may have been the racists in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century South.  But after the Civil Rights Act was signed, there was a rush by Southern Democrats--Thurmond, Gramm, Helms among others--to change their party affiliation to Republican.  There was no comparable wave of Republicans turning Democratic--and the adjective is Democratic, not Democrat.

ACORN was (note the past tense, it no longer exists) always much ado about nothing.  Even if--and that's a big if--the ACORN volunteers did help to register voters named "Mickey Mouse" and other fake names, the registrations meant nothing unless Mickey Mouse actually showed up and tried to vote.  

No more than four individuals, at most, claimed to be the New Black Panther Party. They showed up at a single precinct and eyewitnesses said they didn't block the entrance.

The IRS investigated BOTH conservative- and liberal-leaning groups since they were claiming tax-exempt status as "educational" organizations.  Shouldn't everyone, no matter one's political persuasion, want the IRS to verify that they were not fraudulently trying to avoid paying taxes?  In any case, the overwhelming majority of these groups were approved by the IRS for tax-exempt status.

@ A.S.  Thanks for the polite reply.

Let's see:  "...early 20th Century South..." (?)  At the time of his death in 2010, and for periods back to 1989, the former Exalted Cyclops, Sen. Robert Byrd, Dem, W. Va. served as President pro-tem of the Senate,  third in the presidential line of succession, after V.P. and Speaker.  Early 21st Century, no? (The title "Exalted Cyclops" was bestowed on him for his abilities recruiting new members into the KKK -- he founded a new chapter!)

Maybe that was too easy.  So we will move to Bill Clinton's mentor, Sen J. W. Fulbright.  The Arkansas Democrat signed The Southern Manifesto in opposition to Brown v. Board of Education, filibustered the 1957 and 1964 Civil Rights Acts, and voted against 1965 Civil Rights Act.  All  this from the respected senior statesman of the Democrat Party -- and  the person who schooled the up-and-coming William J. Clinton.

Not to beat this foul-smelling dead horse of Democratic Party politics, but I can clearly remember the Heavyweight Champion of Segregation, Gov. George Corley Wallace,  (Dem, Al.) taking on all comers to win the Democratic primary in MICHIGAN (my home state) in 1968.  MICHIGAN!....for gosh sakes.

Enough of gone-but-not-forgotten Democrat Party segregationists.

ACORN:  If the organization WAS "much-ado-about-nothing" it would still be in business.  Their operating philosophy was, if you recall.... "sure we register a lot of phony voters---but don't forget we register some legitimate ones as well."  Eventually not even Democrats could defend them.

New Black Panthers:  Four husky African Americans in paramilitary uniforms, one waving a billy club,  all shouting at voters.."White devils..Cracker...." And so on.  Eric Holder and his subordinates performed miserably, and were excoriated by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. Any other AG of my lifetime would have been driven from office.

The IRS.  So, 100% of Conservative groups were subject to close examination, v. 27% of Liberal/Progressive groups.  Now, you seem like a bright person.  You cannot actually believe that this is a random occurence.  Do you think Lois Lerner took the 5th because she might have violated the 1st Amendment rights of pro-Obama organizations?  In the near future this issue may well expand to the point where the current Administration simply fades from relevance.

So I stand by my earlier statement:  The Democrat Party OWNS "Election fraud."  And so it will always be.  Because the Democrat Party sees election fraud / illegality / cheating as the lesser of two evils.  Even worse, to them, would be to accept Republican victory(ies).  The party of Jefferson and Jackson sees itself as truly  one with the American people -- all of them-- [gag] -- therefore the rightful "rulers" (if you will) of our nation.

 

 

So that's it?

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