The untold amount of blood, sweat and tears that were shed in the 1960s to put the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on the books is clear testimony to the fact that millions of Americans, especially Black Americans, consider the right to vote as a defining aspect of citizenship.
These voters will never forget the history of the long and hard fought battles for voting rights that led up to the signing of the 1965 bill. These battles included the 12th, 13th, 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th, and the 23rd constitutional amendments, as well as the numerous federal laws, federal court rulings, and Supreme Court rulings that attempted to guarantee the rights of Blacks to vote in an environment of freedom and ease.
The 26th amendment to the constitution, which extends the right to vote to 18 year olds, is the last of these constitutional measures following the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that legally guarantees the right of all Americans to vote, backed up by federal protections.
Now African Americans are faced with another voting rights hurdle after they broke voter turnout records in 2008 from Maine to California in their push to elect Barack Obama the first Black president of the nation.
This new hurdle is the 2012 Voter Suppression Campaign being waged by the Republican Party through its right wing surrogates, the Tea Party, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and the National Center for Public Policy Research.
All of these right wing groups are being funded by billionaires like the Koch Brothers and think tanks like the Heritage Foundation.
Many African Americana of age have long memories of the voter suppression efforts they suffered in the South prior to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act and the struggles they endured to bring it about.
Parenthetically, after reflecting on this history and the current right wing efforts, one has to wonder why there are so many Black conservatives who are now attaching themselves to these groups (see Black Conservatives and Their Agenda: Part I, N’DIGO, April 20, 2012 and Part II, April 26).
The only logical reason that one can surmise is that these Black men and women are being paid well as spokespersons and fronts for a movement that has as its publicly stated mission to acutely prohibit the civil rights of Blacks and other minorities.
At the top of that list of rights that this movement wants to take away is the right to vote of as many Black and Hispanic voters as possible – i.e., voter suppression – in order to guarantee Republican control of the House of Representatives and the Senate, election of Mitt Romney as president, and the control of the majority of the state governments after the November elections.
Voter suppression is defined as practices either codified in law or embedded in tradition.
It is designed to influence the outcome of elections by controlling the number of people voting, preventing some people from voting, and thereby predetermining the direction of the votes being cast.
The sponsors of the legislation that promote voter suppression claim that they are doing it to stop widespread voter fraud. Clearly, voter fraud is present in the American electoral system, however, 99.9 percent of that fraud is committed by election officials and personnel rather than by voters.
We have seen clear evidence of this reality in Chicago and Cook County in the manipulation of elections by politicians, both Democrats and Republicans.
In fact, the Republicans’ favorite voter counting machine company, Diebold, has had its machine’s computer programs tested by experts at Harvard, Yale, and MIT and all have concluded that the Diebold machines can be manipulated to predetermine the results of an election.
Thus, it is clear that if these groups were truly concerned about stamping out fraud in elections they would have passed legislation that would address the real fraud that occurs at the front end of the election process rather than concentrating on voters, where it has been proven in countless studies that voter fraud at the ballot box is less than one percent.
ALEC and its supporters are interested in voter suppression of Blacks and other minorities rather than eliminating the real fraud.
The Brennan Center for Justice and the Center for American Progress have documented the strategies that are being put into law in more than 30 states to date. They are as follows:
• Photo ID Laws –This is by far the most fundamental strategy prescribed by ALEC and adopted by most of the state legislatures. They require voters to show a photo ID that has been issued by the state DMV before being allowed to cast their vote.
This requirement places a severe hardship on low income, rural voters in particular because many do not have transportation to the DMV facilities if they do not have a valid driver’s license, and/or some may not have birth certificates, which are required for the issuance of a photo ID.
In the state of Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker closed down many DMV facilities in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods after the photo ID legislation passed in order to guarantee the restriction of Black and Hispanic voters’ ability to acquire these documents.
• Ex-Offender Bans – The most blatant practice of banning ex-offenders from voting was put into practice by the state of Florida in the 2000 election and contributed to the election of George W. Bush for president. This law is still enforced in Florida and has been expanded to other states under Republican control.
• Inhibiting Voter Registration – ALEC has prescribed schemes to inhibit voter registration, restricting absentee voting and early voting, after they accused ACORN of massive fraud in their voter registration and get-out-the-vote activities for Barack Obama in the 2008 election.
Because of the media fallout and congressional pressure that resulted in the ACORN case, ALEC went into high gear to stop any other groups from aiding the re-election of Obama by massive registration and get-out-the-vote movements.
• Purging Programs – The citizens of Chicago and Cook County are familiar with the practice of the purging of voter rolls by machine Democrats and anti-Black groups; now this practice has been taken to a higher level by states like Florida and Louisiana. These states concentrate their purges in African-American communities and strike thousands of legitimate voters from the rolls as a matter of course.
• Voter Intimidation – The practice of voter intimidation includes deceptive practices (misleading robocalls and mailings), and voter caging (sending mail to voters that is likely to be returned and striking them from the rolls).
Of course, voter intimidation in the form of violence occurred regularly in the southern states before and during the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s.
While few incidents of violence are being reported currently, there are numerous reports of police officers and election officials intimidating voters by hovering over them, getting in their faces and asking them questions in an intimidating manner. All of these actions are overlooked by the Republican authorities in charge of the election process.
• Deceptive Practices – Some would say that the deceptive practices being instituted by Republicans around the country may have been borrowed from the Cook County Democratic Machine at its heyday in the 1950s and ‘60s. These tactics include using the phone, mail and now the Internet to deceive African-American and Hispanic voters into believing that they are ineligible to vote because of some violation of law or a change in the address of the polling place.
In addition to these voter suppression practices, the Republican controlled state of Pennsylvania is proposing to change the long held tradition of allotting Electoral College votes to the winner of the majority of the popular vote and follow the rules of Maine and Nebraska by giving one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district.
This method, while permitted by the constitution, could result in handing over the election to the presidential candidate that has the least amount of popular votes since Pennsylvania has some 20 electoral votes. Some observers believe that Florida and other Republican controlled states may follow suit in this practice.
It is clear that all of these laws and practices are being put in place to collectively challenge the re-election of Barack Obama. The Republican Party and their surrogates are determined to stop Obama through the use of legal, extra legal, and illegal means.
Obama supporters are outraged at the seemingly lackluster response on the part of the Obama administration and campaign apparatus in overturning these laws. They have not seen the vigorous activity needed by the Justice Department to reverse this trend.
The great majority of the voters disenfranchised by these laws and practices are supporters of Obama and intend to vote for him in the November election, which is the reason that they are being targeted by the Republicans.
Thus, it makes sense for Obama to employ his Justice Department to become more vigorous in overturning these laws and practices.
A recent report from the Center for American Progress stated that, “’11 percent of American citizens do not possess a government-issued photo ID (over 21 million citizens). Three of the photo ID bills to have passed – in South Carolina, Texas, and Tennessee – expressly do not allow students to use photo IDs issued by state educational institutions to vote, and Wisconsin’s bill effectively excludes most student IDs as well.
“Around three million Americans tried to vote in the 2008 presidential election but could not, due to voter registration problems. As many as 25 percent of African Americans do not possess a current and valid form of government issued photo ID, compared to 11 percent of all races.’”
In that same report, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Kansas were cited as the worst states for voting rights violations in 2011.
The violations ranged from the exclusion of ex-offenders from the voter rolls, to severe restrictions on groups conducting voter registration, to shortening the early voting period, and demanding proof of citizenship before voting.
No one can accurately predict the outcome of the November election, however, we can state categorically that if these voter suppression laws and practices are not nullified, it will lessen the chances of an Obama re-election and guarantee a Republican majority in the Congress.
Obama supporters are pleading with the president to step up his attempts to curb this trend, because aside from his re-election efforts, millions of voters will be prevented from voting for the candidates of their choice in their local