Monday, February 13, 2017

Why U.S. citizens don't have a clear "right to vote"

The unpresidential Tangerine's odious twerp policy advisor Stephen Miller warned today:

An issue of voter fraud is something we’re going to be looking at very seriously and very hard.

This is not surprising since they've installed a Neo-Confederate Attorney General whose history suggests he'll try to make voting more difficult for all varieties of "those people." Election administrators agree we have no significant voter fraud. But there are a lot of U.S. citizens that these guys -- and lot of Republicans -- don't think should be allowed to vote. So we are treated to repetition of this Big Lie about election fraud.

Coincidentally, I'm currently reading historian Eric Foner's Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877. (The link is to Amazon, but this is probably available from public libraries.) He describes how the Fifteenth Amendment, ratified in 1870 after Union victory in Civil War ended slavery, was both a previously unthinkable advance for the principle of black, male, suffrage -- and also, a very incomplete step toward inclusive citizenship. It's limitations still haunt us.

... clothing black suffrage with constitutional sanction, the amendment said nothing about the right to hold office and failed to make voting requirements "uniform throughout the land" ... [Radical contemporaries] derided its "lame and halting" language, for the Amendment did not forbid literacy, property and education tests that, while nonracial, might effectively exclude the majority of blacks from the polls. ... Congress rejected a far more sweeping proposal barring discrimination in suffrage and officeholding based on "race, color, nativity, property, education or religious beliefs." Nor did the Amendment break decisively with the notion that the vote was a "privilege" that states could regulate as they saw fit.

[The unrepentant South was not the only source of the Amendment's deficiencies.] ... Northern states wished to retain their own suffrage qualifications. In the West, the Chinese could not vote; if the Fifteenth Amendment altered this situation, warned California's Republican Sen. Cornelius Cole, it would "kill our party as dead as a stone." Pennsylvania demanded the payment of state taxes to vote; Rhode Island required foreign-born citizens to own $134 worth of real estate; Massachusetts and Connecticut insisted upon literacy. ...In a reversal of long-established political traditions, support for black voting rights now seemed less controversial than efforts to combat other forms of inequality. Thus it was not a limited commitment to blacks' voting rights, but a desire to retain other inequalities, affecting whites, that produced a Fifteenth Amendment that opened the door to poll taxes, literacy tests, and property qualifications in the South.

It is interesting that blacks who commented on the Amendment preferred language explicitly guaranteeing all male citizens the right to vote. Not for the first time in the nation's history, their commitment to the ideal of equal citizenship exceeded that of other Americans.

And, of course, proponents of both a "strong" and "weak" Fifteenth Amendment ignored the claims of women ...

Women won our own voting rights amendment in 1920; poll taxes were outlawed by the Twenty-Fourth Amendment in 1964. But it took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to overcome many of the weaknesses in the Fifteenth Amendment, especially the many opportunities it left open for states to weasel out of making available universal suffrage through local laws governing election administration.

Since the Supreme Court has been whittling back the Voting Rights Act -- most recently in Holder in 2013 -- Republicans have been enacting state procedures that make voting harder for people of color, the very old, the poor, the infirm and the very young. If everyone can vote, and does vote, Republicans don't win. It's that simple. So GOPers have seized on "voter-suppression" to save their unpopular asses.

It's all based on phony claims of non-existent voter fraud. One of my favorite Democratic Senate candidates who didn't quite prevail in the last cycle, Jason Kander of Missouri, is leading something called Let America Vote to help local people make the argument when faced with state efforts to reduce voting rights. He thinks most of us would reject voter-suppression if we were hearing the arguments.

Right now, in most places in the country, if a state legislator decides to file a piece of legislation that is nakedly obvious in its intent to suppress the vote, there’s a very limited political consequence for doing that. That needs to change. And Let America Vote is going to be anywhere across the country where we need to be to make sure there is a political consequence.

... The president of the United States is telling one of the biggest lies a president has ever told. It’s just made up, the idea that there was widespread voter fraud in the election—he just completely made it up. And he’s doing it not to pacify his own insecurities; he’s doing it because he wants to ease the process of passing voter-suppression laws across the country so that he has a better chance of getting re-elected and that Republicans have a better chance of winning elections in 2018. But when that’s the case, when the president of the United States is running a voter-suppression campaign out of the White House, and actively working to undermine faith and confidence in our democracy, then what choice do we have but to fight back against that with everything we can?

Repudiating voter-suppression and extending opportunity for all citizens to vote is resistance. We all need to be loud and clear about this assault on democratic rights.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

These people are extremely dangerous. I hope we can get rid of them. Flynn's a start, anyway.

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