I was never under the illusion that the Electoral College would save us from Dear Leader Trump. Much of our reaction as Dems has been a sort of knee jerk one. The simple truth that none of us can prevent is that he will become our 45th president. That is not to say we should just give up. There are serious issues being raised with his presidency even before he takes the oath that must be addressed. He will be impeachable due to his violation of the Emoluments Clause, his ties to foreign governments, the Russians hacking in order to assure him the presidency, etc. All need to be discussed at length. After all, Trump, like any other elected official, should be held accountable and scrutinized if he wants to hold the highest office in the land.
But none of those investigations will occur with this Republican held Congress. Modern day Republicans have proven time and again that they care little about America nor about working with the other party to make this country “great.” Their interests lie in obstructionist politics and are about power, money and control. But if Democrats want to start winning, and so far I’ve seen little evidence of this, they have to start working the long game. They have to start figuring out how to win elections. Republicans have been playing this long game since Reagan. Trump’s election is the result of 30 plus years of plotting, organizing and executing by groups like the Heritage Foundation and not some fly by night op.
One of the main areas Democrats need to work on is voting rights. Without it, they will always be pushing that boulder uphill. A reminder:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the
United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” 1
Seems fairly straight forward to me, but racist legislatures being the jerks that they are, don’t think so. Oddly enough, these men were Democrats who were angry at the Lincoln Republicans for freeing slaves. (Yes, I admit that in the beginning Republicans were on the side of civil rights, but things have changed.) Once this Amendment was passed in 1870, they went to work establishing the Jim Crow laws. These laws, predominantly used in Southern states, implemented not only the “separate but equal” laws but voting restictions that were not only selectively enforced, but were biased against minorities. To vote, African Americans were required to pass literacy tests, prove they paid their taxes, not been in prison, etc. If that wasn’t enough, legislatures even purged voter rolls of minorities. A wee bit too familiar eh?
Thanks to President Johnson, the Voter Rights Act was passed in 1965 to end all such minority voter disenfranchisement. Knowing that these racist state legislatures would continue to try and pass such laws, Section 5 stated that any proposed voting law would have to be approved by the Department of Justice before implemented. That didn’t stop them from trying though. Even as the parties switched sides, Democrats becoming more inclusive and championing minority rights while Republicans became more exclusive, Southern state legislatures and local governments continued to challenge the law.
In 2013, they finally won with Shelby v. Holder; a case that was not won in U.S. District or Appellant Courts but solely in the Supreme Court by a 5-4 margin. The court held that though Section 5’s preclearance was constitutional, the manner in which the federal government determined which states would be required to meet the standard, Section 4, was not. According to Chief Justice Roberts:
“There is no denying, however, that the conditions that originally justified these
measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions.”
He based his decision on the most current Census Bureau statistics stating that African American voter turnout was larger in 5 out of the 6 states affected. In other words, Blacks were no longer afraid to vote, and legislatures were no longer racist.2
Within two hours of the court’s decision, Texas passed their first voter restriction, the voter ID requirement. Other states followed. It just so happened that all the states that the federal government had deemed in the past to be too racist to be trusted in regards to voters’ rights started working on their own voter restriction laws under the guise of protecting elections from voter fraud. Not one state has ever produced evidence of sufficient voter fraud to effect an election. Yet these states have passed a multitude of laws regarding who can and cannot vote: Texas, Arizona, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina….get the picture?
Voter ID is the most common restriction. The problem with this law is that not everyone can afford to pay for an ID. To deny someone their right to vote because of money is akin to the poll tax laws under Jim Crow. To combat this, some of these states have made it free. Fair enough, problem solved you say? Not so fast. These states then turned around and began closing their departments that issue said IDs and polling sites saying that it was in an effort to save money. Actually, it is just another way to keep minorities from voting. In state after state, the closures occurred in only districts with high Black or Hispanic populations, not in predominately white districts. Not only did voters have to travel as far as 250 miles (Texas) to obtain said ID, they then had to travel to other districts just to find their assigned polling stations.
Another common tactic used by these Republican legislatures is redistricting. This is occurring in both state and local governments. As an example, instead of having 10 districts with mixed populations, they are redrawn so that 8 or 9 of the districts contain majority whites and the remaining are Black or Hispanic. This leaves minority communities with less representation by diluting their vote. Some legislatures have even further divided white communities so as to give them more representatives on local councils and state legislatures.
Other tricks include changing polling sites at the last minute without notifying voters, moving elections from November to July, holding minority polling sites in police stations, eliminating same day registration and Sunday voting and only opening ID issuing offices one day a month. All of these have been statistically proven to reduce minority turn out. They have even changed the dates of elections just as was done under the Jim Crow laws.
As it stands now, the federal government is being required to challenge each and every law passed in court using valuable time and money to fight the same fight over and over. It’s the same plan Republicans use in regards to abortion: overwhelm the opposition in court battles. Meanwhile, the laws will stand until the cases work their way back through the courts only to end up with the same result. North Carolina’s recent debacle with their voter restriction laws is a prime example. North Carolina Republicans knew these laws were racist and didn’t even try to hide the fact before the court. The goal was simply to tie Democrats up in court and suppress their vote until after the 2016 election.
Democrats have more than enough ammunition to prove Justice Roberts wrong. Unfortunately, there is still one party willing to violate the 15th Amendment to control legislatures. There is no doubt that this is a blatantly racist tactic used by Republicans to gain control over local, state and federal elections. Republicans can and will continually challenge these laws. Democrats need to continually challenge these voter restriction laws and work to get Shelby v. Holder overturned no matter the costs. It does not matter if they lose. They must take a stand. If not, we will become a party of one.
This article was written in reference to: “History of the VRA,” The Leadership Conference, retrieved Dec. 20, 21016, www.civilrights.org.