Revamping voting laws disrupts GOP’s “power grab”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has voiced opposition to making Election Day a federal holiday. However, allowing American voters a more accessible and a stress-free trip to their voting precincts should be a no-brainer.
H.R. 1, written to “expand Americans’ access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and for other purposes,” would do just that.
McConnell depicted the Democratic-controlled House proposal as “a political power grab,” and mocked the legislation as the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.”
Not true. The bill would improve access for voters with disabilities and increase voter turnout. It would reform automatic voter registration and felon re-enfranchisement. In other words, H.R. 1 would modernize a century-old bankrupt voting system to mirror America today, thus supporting a participatory democracy.
Because of the GOP’s continued aversion to diversity—POC, LGBTs, immigrants, and Muslims, to name a few—the tribe has become an aging white nostalgic throwback of its good ole Jim Crow days.
Since the 1964 Civil Rights Voting Act gave African-Americans ballot access, the GOP has pursued various attempts to suppress minority voting. Such old tactics include literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses, and have given way to new tactics like random voter roll purging, changing of polling locations, adjusting polling hours or eliminating early voting days, reducing the number of polling places, packing majority-minority districts, dividing minority districts, and the notorious voter ID laws that disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters. They are all part and parcel of the Republican playbook.
The Republican game plan to disenfranchise Democratic voters by any means necessary has both unapologetically and unabashedly shown the American public what a “power grab” looks like. As McConnell’s party continues its no-holds-barred tactics in this century as it did in the last.
In 2000, the outcome of the presidential race between Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Republican Texas Gov. George W. Bush was decided in a recount of Florida ballots due to hanging chads. In predominantly black voting precincts, which are overwhelmingly Democratic, it was reported that piles of ballots were left uncounted. The US Civil Rights Commission reported that of ballots invalidated by Florida officials, 53 percent were cast by black voters. The Florida debacle was settled in Bush’s favor, winning him the presidency. His brother Jeb was governor at the time.
In 2013, by a 5-to-4 Republican majority, the US Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder eviscerated Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Section 4 identified problematic voting precincts with shameful histories of racial discrimination. Not surprisingly, these precincts are predominately GOP strongholds. The Court ruled that Section 4, which historically protected African-Americans and other disenfranchised people of color, was outdated. The ruling contests a fictive post-racial premise that minorities, especially in the South, no longer confront discriminatory voting barriers.
At the time, the 1965 VRA applied to nine states in South—Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. However, after the Shelby County decision, North Carolina’s GOP targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision” since the black vote increased by 51.1 percent in the state in 2000, and blacks had a higher voter turnout with Obama on the ballot in both 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
In 2018, the epic gubernatorial battle between Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams and Republican candidate Brian Kemp was a bold, brash, and brazen example of how a Republican “power grab” works in the state of Georgia. While running for governor, Kemp was Georgia’s secretary of state, and in that position oversaw Georgia’s elections. Kemp was also responsible for the “exact match” policy, which states that a voter application must “exactly match” their social security or driver’s license information. According to the Associated Press, 53,000 applications were put on hold, 70 percent of which were submitted by black voters.
The GOP tactics to steer people of color away from the polls during the midterm elections also impacted and posed challenges for many transgender voters who transitioned. And for many who may not have had a government-issued photo ID reflecting their gender. According to data from the Williams Institute, of the 137,000 transgender people who have transitioned and were eligible to vote, approximately 57 percent (78,000) may not have had the appropriate ID.
H.R. 1 would make improvements for those of us who would too easily be denied the right to vote.
I grew up knowing one of the most influential voices in American politics, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm represented my Brooklyn congressional district for seven terms, from 1969 to 1983. She was known throughout the neighborhood and the halls of power in New York City as a force to be reckoned with who was “unbought” and “unbossed,” also the title of her 1970 memoir.
I learned from Chisholm that democracy can only begin to work when those who are relegated to the fringes of society can begin to sample what those in society take for granted as their inalienable right. It starts at the ballot box.
Rev. Irene Monroe can be heard on the podcast and standing Boston Public Radio segment ALL REV’D UP on WGBH (89.7 FM). Monroe’s syndicated religion columns appear and the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail. She is a s a Visiting Researcher in the Religion and Conflict Transformation Program at Boston University School of Theology.