As the Founding Fathers were hashing out the framework for their experiment in democracy, they had to make a number of compromises, including acceding to Southerners' demands that the 9 million slaves be counted as 3/5 of a person for the purpose of adding to their ranks of representation, but, of course, not to vote. That population disparity, though, gave the South outsized domination of Congress, and even after the passage of the 15th Amendment, Jim Crow laws made sure that Blacks would never be able to exercise their right to cast a ballot.
Women didn't even get the vote until August 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment was passed, a date that is now marked as Women's Equality Day, giving us this extraordinary opportunity to mark the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington which led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 during the same week.
And in each case, instead of a celebration, there is renewed urgency of reclaiming rights that are being clawed back.
"Ironically, after the Supreme Court decision, today is not just a commemoration [of the adoption of the 19th Amendment] but a call to action. Remarkable," said Elisabeth MacNamara, national president of the League of Women Voters, which has been extremely busy going back to 2005, battling back voter suppression laws that now have taken on new momentum thanks to the Supreme Court.
Voter suppression has been a key weapon for decades.
Paul Weyrich, the founder of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council, funded largely by the Koch Brothers), back in 1980, told a group of Christian right ministers, "I don’t want everyone to vote. Quite frankly, our leverage in the election goes up as the voting populace goes down."
This is even truer today, with women being more than half the electorate, minority voters soon to become the majority, and young people such a substantial proportion of voters - groups which also tend to vote Democratic.
These days, Republicans have used a variety of techniques to make their votes count in outsized ways to make sure that they get to wield outsized control that is anything but equal - they don't call it "Jim Crow" or overtly exclude Blacks or Women. They have other ways.
They want the benefit of "undocumented immigrants" who reside in their districts bolstering their population to give them more seats in Congress - like slaves before the Emancipation Proclamation - but certainly do not want to give them a path to citizenship and The Vote.
This is not just happening in southern States, though Texas, Florida, North Carolina are truly leading the way with the most brazen assault on voting rights since the Constitution limited voting to white male propertyowners. It's happening at the local level as well: here in Nassau County, the narrow Republican Majority on the Legislature made sure to adopt a gerrymandered map that institutionalizes their Majority, whether or not a Democrat wins the County Executive office.
Gerrymandering doesn't just disenfranchise voters in that state, though. It disenfranchises the rest of the country by altering the outcomes, as we can see by the way the Republican-dominated House has obstructed any initiatives that would have resulted in jobs creation, infrastructure, climate change, immigration reform, gun safety - the very things that the popular will wants enacted. The House Republicans are the reason we have sequester which is devastating Head Start, Meals on Wheels, the federal criminal justice system and that list goes on and on and on.
But the Republicans should not be in control of the House at all. In the 2012 election, 1.5 million more Democratic votes were cast than were cast for Republican Congressional candidates, and yet the House wound up with a 233-195 seat majority. This represents the GOP's "second-biggest House majority in 60 years and their third-biggest since the Great Depression," according to the Washington Post's Aaron Blake.
In North Carolina, there were 81,000 more Democratic votes, yet the state sent 9 Republicans and only 4 Democrats to Congress; Michigan and Pennsylvania had a majority of Democratic votes than Republican, yet more than two-thirds of their House Representatives are Republican. Virginia and Wisconsin both had a roughly 50-50 split between Democrats and Republicans, but you wouldn't know it from the sizeable Republican majority it sent to the House. (See Mother Jones, "Now that's What I Call Gerrymandering!" by Adam Serwer, Jaeah Lee and Zaineb Mohammed).
In essence, Democrats have become the new "3/5" voter.
But gerrymandering isn't the only way that Republicans intend to keep and preserve power. There is a laundry list of gimmicks and mechanisms to suppress the vote among key groups: Blacks, Latinos, students, elderly, disabled, poor and urban voters.
And these tactics fall disproportionately on women who have become the target of a war waged on their health, reproductive and economic rights.
"Attacks on voting rights and regressive policies are designed to undo the gains we celebrate this week," said Jocelyn Frye, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress.
"This is the largest and ugliest voter suppression attack since the 1960s - what we are seeing is a movement that began viciously in 2011 and gained steam in 2012 and continues in 2013 to suppress right to vote for people of color, low income, students, disabled, elderly, and progressive women," Barbara Arnwine, President & Executive Director, Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights under Law.
"The issue has impact on women - women in particular are more likely to be low income, more likely to be seniors, disabled, more likely to have changed their name and their name not match their birth certificate or ID, more likely to have difficulty acquiring a birth certificate. Women suffer under voter suppression, because of their need for child care, they need flexibility of early voting - Instead, we are seeing an attack on all these rights," Arnwine said.
And that impacts women's ability to have any impact on issues that affect their lives: jobs and living wages, pay equity, access to affordable child care, parental leave, affordable health care, reproductive choice; education funding, clean air and water, fracking. Republicans even are pushing to return to health insurance companies the right to call being a woman a "preexisting condition" and charge higher premiums or throw women off coverage when they get sick. And the list goes on and on and on.
"Everything we fight for is tied to our right to vote, and by trying to suppress our right to vote, everything that makes it possible to fight for equality in society, to have legislature to listen to women, are affected by this horrid, ugly voter suppression fight," Arnwine said. "Today we find this war on women is alive and well, and while the subject of much discussion, is made worse by egregious attempts to undo voting rights."
"There is a clear connection between strong voter protections and women's health," said Dawn Laguens, Executive Vice President and CEO, Planned Parenthood. "Sadly, many politicians have made proposing and passing restrictions on women's health a full time occupation, making it harder for women to make health care decisions with their doctors and family. And many of those same people who asserting themselves between women and doctor are coming between voters and ballot box - it is not a coincidence."
"Strong voter protections are critical for women - there are enormous implications - because increasingly women play important, central role in economic wellbeing of their family. They are co-breadwinners and still have the majority role in care giving.... Women play a key role in economic security of their families, communities, and the nation," said Judy Lichtman, Senior Advisor, National Partnership for Women & Families.
"Pregnant women are still being forced from jobs [if not outwardly fired for being pregnant, then because of scheduling issues that make it impossible for them to work], denied reasonable accommodation, denied pay and promotions of their male counterparts, too often workplaces fail to offer paid sick days and family leave they need. simply not sustainable."
"The struggle for women's equality and civil rights are inextricably entwined," Wade Henderson, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said. "The March on Washington, was singularly important, leading to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.... Women were among the classes protected, but history [may have forgotten that] women were included only as a poison pill, as some hoped to make the legislation so radical, it would fail. Women would go on to play a pivotal role..... 50 years later, women are at forefront of advancing civil rights agenda.... "
It is important to be reminded that Republicans held up the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and that even now, The Discrimination Against Women treaty "languishes" in the Senate. Among its provisions are to reduce domestic violence and stop human trafficking.
"50 years after the March on Washington, almost 100 years after women received right to vote.... we recognize tremendous progress but on issues of fundamental equality of women, we still not made anywhere near the progress we would have thought. Restoring the right to vote is essential."
Clearly Republicans recognize that political power and economic power are inextricably linked (think about campaign finance reform and the Disclose Act) but gerrymandering can take you only so far - especially in terms of women who are obviously spread geographically.
That's where the other techniques of voter suppression come to play: access to polls - literally shutting down polling places and sending too few machines for the number of voters; moving polling places to where they are hard to reach; ending or reducing early voting; impeding voter registrations; purging voter lists with limited ability to be reinstated; voter IDs that disproportionately affect urban dwellers, seniors, women, disabled voters, poor people and young voters, especially college students.
Jam-cramming certain voting districts so that the lines extend for 8 hours absolutely affects people like the 102 year old woman in Florida who refused to lose her right to vote in the 2012 Presidential election. These go against working people who depend on an hourly wage - not the Romney 1% who sit back as the money rolls in. I can just envision the Romney people who he told in the 2012 campaign to send around notes giving their workers compelling reasons to vote for Romney "or else", sending around a notice that says: "If you don't come in Tuesday, don't come in Wednesday."
Boone NC, in a measure designed to restrict college students from voting, has closed the on-campus polling site (despite the fact the college is the biggest employer in the area), and consolidated the vote in a building that is not accessible by public transportation, not even walkable in safety, and with only a few dozen parking places for a polling place, that was designed to accommodate 1500 voters but now will have to accommodate 9300.
And to top it off, one of the voter suppression measures that North Carolina has just adopted requires the polling places to close on time, regardless how many people are waiting on line to vote.
Another tactic is instituting tough photo ID laws, then making access to where you would obtain voter ID difficult - in Texas, the registration place is 250 miles away from the urban center, and some 800,000 Texans do not have the required ID (gun permits are OK as ID, but not student ID).
(Because states set the rules which vary so much and there is so much confusion, the League of women Voters has a site to help people for each state, 411vote.org).
Solutions Are Readily at Hand
The Republican Majority on the Supreme Court ruled that because the Voting Rights Act was overwhelmingly reauthorized in 2006 based on extensive evidence, that clearly the Congress was held hostage to "popular opinion" and "political correctness" but that the Republican Justices clearly know better and were willing to show courage in overturning the will of the people.
But I wonder if the Supreme Court has actually done a favor: voter suppression should not be measured solely on race or geography- as the March on Washington has shown, legal, economic and environmental injustice is more a matter of socio-economic-political status than along purely racial and the Mason-Dixon lines.
We need a new Voting Rights Act and a new formula.
One measure I would institute follows along the guidelines which were supposed to be adopted during redistricting - a way of analyzing demographics so that districts are not supposed to deviate more than 5% above or below.
That should also be the case for votes cast: If you have a situation where 60% of the votes are cast for Democrats but 60 percent of the victorious candidates are Republicans, that should trigger a lawsuit with the consequence that the election could be overturned.
And there should be criminal penalties for people who engage in voter suppression, including impeding valid registration, intimidating voters or giving false information that results in their inability to cast a vote (on the other side, if a suit fails, the defendant should be able to recover legal expenses).
There need to be federal guidelines on accessibility of polling places and requirements for having a proportionate number of voting machines to the number of registered voters.
There needs to be some federal guideline that says that overall, people can vote at the place where they were last registered - rather than intimidating some voters into thinking that if they are moved temporarily for a job, they have to get new voter registration, new drivers' license, new insurance, etc.
To address gerrymandering, redistricting should be removed from partisan control and managed by nonpartisan group (not like what Nassau County did), using more objective tools (as was demonstrated by Common Cause/NY which created its own nonpartisan map).
These rules should be in place everywhere, regardless of whether the jurisdiction was previously on a "watch list" for preclearance by the Department of Justice.
There should be more uniformity and guidelines for where you can vote. This is especially the case for college students and young adults who tend to be highly mobile and are being intimidated from voting altogether by threats of prosecution for not changing their drivers' license, not paying state income taxes where they vote.
College students should be allowed to register at their college campus - not their dorm room, which changes year to year - and they should be able to choose if they prefer to vote at college or at their home address.
The interesting thing is that with all the freak-out about voter impersonation (of which cases are so rare as to be nonexistent), none of these issues address absentee ballots which are more vulnerable to abuse (including individuals who make out ballots for someone else).
Voting rolls are a mess - you can be registered in multiple places because as you move, you register but don't get removed from prior rolls; they are filled with people who have died (but not voting). This is not illegal if you don't vote more than once.
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law has issued a report on ways to simplify the voting registration.
"Congress should enact basic national standards to ensure that every citizen who takes responsibility to register and vote can actually vote. Voter Registration Modernization (VRM), at the heart of such reforms, would help give Americans the election system they deserve," the Brennan Center stated.
"Voter Registration Modernization requires the government to take responsibility for ensuring that every eligible voter can become and stay a registered voter, using digital technology to pass names of consenting citizens from state agencies to election officials. Citizens would also have the choice to register or update their registration online or at the polls.
"VRM would cost less, because computerized records are far easier to keep than today’s chaotic piles of paper. And by increasing the accuracy of our rolls, it would also curb the potential for fraud. VRM provides flexible and secure options for voters from all walks of life to get and stay registered: at government agencies, by mail, or online. And it does so in a way that largely eliminates the errors, frustrations, shenanigans, and bureaucratic snafus that plague the current system.
- Up to 50 million eligible American citizens would be added to the rolls permanently.
- States would save money on election administration.
- The accuracy of our voter rolls would be increased, curbing opportunities for fraud.
"Our election system should offer the convenience, flexibility, and security that Americans demand from their banks and their retirement accounts. Every American citizen — whether retired in rural America, living in a high-tech city, studying on campus, or stationed in Afghanistan — should have a fair and equal opportunity to get, and stay, registered to vote. When you move, your registration should move with you. If you’re an eligible voter you should be a registered voter — period."
Either this country wants to encourage voter participation or it wants to suppress voting. But if voter suppression is the objective, the United States cannot be called a democracy.
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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