Voter Suppression – Then & Now

Posted on Wednesday, 3rd August 2011 @ 01:17 AM by Text Size A | A | A

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A great Republican President told the nation, “We cannot escape history.”  If today’s Republican leaders would heed that lesson, they wouldn’t be trying to disenfranchise voters across the country. Governors and state legislators are rolling back voter protections for young people, minorities, seniors and working people by proposing photo identification requirements, creating stringent residency requirements, reducing early voting opportunities, ending same-day registration, and making it difficult for non-profit groups to register voters.

We are told it’s to combat voter fraud.  Yet as 2008 and 2010 have shown, our country does not have a voter fraud problem.  What they’re really up to is restricting certain demographic groups from voting because they don’t like the outcome.

Of course, they’re not explicitly announcing that they want to limit voting rights for those of a certain race or age.  But we’ve learned from the Jim Crow laws of the segregated South that you do not have to mention race to have a racial effect.  The grandfather clauses , literacy tests and poll taxes, not only had a disparate impact, they were also applied in a disparate fashion.  Naturally, former slaves did not ancestors who were eligible to vote and most whites did.  The administration of oral literacy tests by county registrars was also infamously unequal with easy questions asked to white citizens and incredibly difficult questions asked to the mostly African-American citizens.  Southern county registrars were also known to suddenly close when African-American citizens approached to register, and to apply poll taxes in a discriminatory manner

In addition, many states had residency requirements which effectively disenfranchised students.  North Carolina required a two-year residency before a resident could register to vote.  Furthermore the requirement that your parents had to be registered to vote before you could register was clearly aimed at the youth to discourage participation.  These discriminatory laws were not struck down until a series of historic Supreme Court cases in the 1960’s and 1970’s, the 24th Amendment barring poll taxes, and the landmark Voter Rights Act.

Today, we recognize that voting is a fundamental right.  Equal and fair access to the ballot is essential for a healthy democracy.  Since the 19th century, the Supreme Court has applied special scrutiny to all laws that limit voting eligibility or place burdens on the exercise of the vote.  Indeed, the history of our nation has been one of expanding – not contracting – voting rights.  From the Women’s Suffrage Movement to the Civil Rights Movement, which brought us the Voting Rights Act.

As we speak, America is experiencing an unprecedented, orchestrated national effort to make it more difficult for certain demographic groups to vote.  The state governments in question have not shown any evidence that these new laws would solve any problems.  They simply would create new burdens for certain….people.  Early voting and same-day registration, for example, have been proven to raise turnout among service workers, the elderly, the disabled, and youth without creating any problems of fraud.

Sixteen U.S. Senators have recently written to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to examine whether these new state statutes violate the Voting Rights Act by disenfranchising elderly, disabled, and low-income voters.  Any effort to disenfranchise citizens or suppress voter turnout is unconstitutional and un-American.   Even Abraham Lincoln knew that.

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