Happy early voter in California where a Democratic Secretary of State has made voting simple and accessible.
The rumor is out that the Prez is going to make a push for easier voting in the State of the Union speech next Tuesday. And so he should:
Of course just because the Prez wants it and Democrats will introduce it, doesn't mean reforms to make voting easier and procedures more uniform will come about. Republicans don't like all this voting: the wrong people do it. Too many of them are young, or women without husbands, or of color. So we can expect no more than noise in most states and Congress where the Party of No retains an ability to veto.
Meanwhile this year the Supreme Court will have a chance to gut one of the prime enforcement mechanisms of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This law gave teeth to the 1869 15th Amendment to the Constitution which ordered that voting rights can't be denied on the basis of race, color or past slavery. According to legal commentator Jeffrey Toobin, Chief Justice Roberts seems to think that the Voting Rights Act represents "a kind of legal smallpox vaccine—a cure for a disease that no longer exists." That depends on where you look. Guess he's not looking at voter ID laws that exclude the very young and very old or the those long lines. Or maybe he's just okay with obstacles once perfected by the old segregationist South spreading nationwide wherever Republicans can enact them?
We might be less stunned by current efforts to restrict voting if we were more conscious of the history of Reconstruction -- the era (1865-1876) in which the post-Civil War white rebel South was fully reintegrated into these "United States." Reactionaries have been at this for a long time. Nicholas Lemann has just published a short cogent account of that period in the Washington Monthly that provides background context for current struggles. Reading it, we have to understand that in those days, it was northern Republicans who stood for (and to benefit from) Black votes, while Democrats stood with resisting whites.
The right to vote had given the Black former slaves access to political power in the conquered white South. White people didn't like the election of a slew of Black politicians.
Eventually Washington pols cut a deal and the southerner white supremacists were free from federal interference for nearly one hundred years. The Lemann article is an important reminder that universal voting rights are one of the pillars of a more equitable democracy and that we've never enjoyed such rights without a fight.
If the Supreme Court rules that the federal government can no longer enforce the voting rights of all, are we headed back to a situation in which many citizens will be denied the vote? If Republican Congresscritters and state governments get their way, will voting be made harder and more exclusively the privilege of the well-off and white? It's clear that today's Republicans are working for such an outcome where they can. White liberals have not always been stalwarts on the other side, but today's emerging majority -- the coalition of the ascendent that elected our improbable Black president -- is rooted in universal suffrage. So is all progress these days. We will fight to keep and extend the vote.