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A Republican Assault on Voting Rights

A Republican Assault on Voting Rights

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The preamble of the Constitution: one of the most important documents of the strife-torn 1700s, the parting chapter of the turbulent Age of Rationalism, and a signal of what was to come of the struggle between aristocratic ideas of old and the upstart dream of liberalism. France is primed to throw off the chains of monarchy in favor of the grappling with the will of the people–a conflict that will soon extend to engulf the whole of Europe when France learns the hard lesson of despotic rule from a democratically realized leader–but for now, there is hope in the American experiment of rule by the populace.

Entrenched in this constitution is the idea that each citizen is equal before the eyes of the law. No longer should one’s affluence or political ideology create an unequal system of governance within the Americas. After the eight-year struggle against the British Crown, the fledgling republic stands testament to the willingness of the American spirit to metaphorically “put their money where their mouth is” with the the ideas expressed within the Declaration of Independence: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I am not sure the entirety of the world stood on and watched with amazement as the newly formed United States of America embraced liberal institutions–more likely in the regard one gives when a fly keeps escaping the swatter–but America had eschewed the intoxicating nature of monarchy for the messiness of representative democracy. For this, they chose allowing the citizenry to be represented by the individual of their choice; to allow the people to freely elect anyone they saw fit. Everyone in America would be represented in Congress and by the President of the United States; true freedom awaited!   

As we should all know, this romanticized idea of the U.S. is stretching the truth a little bit– or rather quite a bit–for at the time of its inception the only members of the U.S.populace able to cast their votes are those land-owning, white men. Women were hardly given a thought; minorities less than that. The history of voting rights is a history fraught with turbulence, violence, and death. Some gained voting more easily than others–the 1790s marked the beginning of the abolition of property requirements for white males–while women had to fight until the nineteenth amendment of the constitution came into effect in 1920s; and a history of disenfranchisement through Jim Crow laws in the U.S. kept African-Americans from reliably being able to vote until 1960s. We finally reached a point in 1971 where all people over 18 could vote (though this is also a misnomer as 9 states restrict the right to vote to felons even in post-sentence)

I will not rehash the history of the civil rights and voting rights movements; rather I want to focus on today. The progress of the institutional changes stands under threat from the GOP and the president, who seek to undermine the cohesiveness of our assembled rights and erode the most important freedom that we’ve been granted as Americans–the right to vote.

Under the patently false assertion that 3 to 5 million illegal votes were cast in 2016 – a lie formulated to protect Donald Trump’s fragility–the president has convened a ‘Commision on Voter Fraud’ to get to the bottom of this supposed voting fraud, despite repeated statements from experts that voter fraud is at best a myth. Even so, the commission rapidly plunges ahead finding support amongst the most rabid of the president’s supporters. The commission has recently requested from all 50 states, “information about voters, including their names, birthdays, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers and their voting history dating back to 2006,” emphasis mine.

This unprecedented move under the guise of a “search for truth” is nothing more than a political operation to continue a decades long battle from the GOP to erode the voting freedoms of the U.S.populace–and the states know it. Already California, Virginia, and New York have refused to comply, and the Secretary of State of Kentucky, Alison Grimes, has stated, “Kentucky will not aid a commotion that is at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country.”

It is simply the next step to bring the long history of GOP-led disenfranchisement to a national level–namely against minority voters. This is nothing new, as minorities in this country have had to fight for every inch of freedom in a society where change happens at the pace of molasses; especially African-Americans. When slavery was finally ended in 1865 at the conclusion of the Civil War, Jim Crow moved in. When Jim Crow was thought quashed, the New Jim Crow–the prison-industrial complex–appeared to pick up the slack. (As an aside, please read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. It will do a better job describing the situation better than I ever could) When society believes felons should not vote, you deprive those individuals in society you do not want to vote by making them felons.

These underhanded tactics appear throughout GOP controlled areas today. In North Carolina, the GOP-controlled Election Board sought the prominent forms of IDs that African-American and Hispanic voters used as proof of residency and then banned them from being used. In Wisconsin, a vital state in Donald Trump’s election win and which he won by fewer than 30,000 votes, as many as 300,000 voters lacked the necessary ID to vote under a strict Wisconsin Voter ID law by the state’s own admission. Now the GOP wants to take this plan national. Why make the effort of winning over voters while facing the lowest presidential approval ratings at this point in the history of recorded approval ratings when the margins for victory in the 2016 presidential election were 30,000 in Wisconsin, 11,000 in Michigan, and 70,000 in Pennsylvania? To overcome slim margins, the GOP simply needs fewer black and brown people to vote.

The inclusion of Hans von Spakovsky in this commission should wipe away any remaining doubts as to its intentions. An advocate of strict voter ID laws, von Spakovsky has been accused on multiple occasions of politicizing voters rights issues while working in the Bush-era Department of Justice. It shows a brazen disregard, and in fact boldness, in the desire to trim the rolls in favor of the GOP. If the GOP was to verify that people are eligible to vote, they would not need to know who they voted for in every election since 2006. The Trump Administration is brazenly showing telegraphing the imminent move to enact sweeping voter laws to affect who can vote for their opponents in elections.

While this issue disproportionately affects minorities, it is a mistake to believe that it does not have the ability to affect all voters in the U.S.. How often do you check your registration status? Chances are you do not very often. If you were purged from the rolls–either intentionally or by ‘error’–would you find out in time to be able to vote? Your state likely does not have same-day registration and you would have no say in the election. This is a slap in the face to all those that have come before to fight for voting rights. We must stand up as citizens to oppose a tyranny of eroding rights.

Regularly check your voting status, look into your state’s treatment of voter laws, campaign for an end to prisoner disenfranchisement. If you live in a state that’s on the fence about providing this data to federal government, then call your representatives and tell them you do not support you and your fellow citizens’ rights being eroded by an overreaching political party in exchange for power. Voting is the foundation in which the. U.S. derives its power–it has not always been perfect, but it is the best thing we have. Support the right of the people to be heard–Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative–for the ability to vote should not be a partisan issue, but an American one.

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of other Arbitror contributors or the views of Arbitror itself.

Photo: “Vote,” Originally taken by Marc Tarlock with a (CC BY-SA 2.0 license). Use of this photo does not indicate an endorsement from its creator. 

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