Fair Elections — RIP

The Supreme Court’s Shelby ruling aids a Republican plan to win more elections without winning support from more voters.

— by Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins

imageVoting rights are under attack again — this time it’s the Supreme Court’s turn.

The majority’s ruling in the Shelby County vs. Holder case gutted key Voting Rights Act provisions at a time when minority access to the polls faces new obstacles.

As Justice Ruth Ginsburg explained and proved in her dissent, the law is working well but remains necessary. She likened the ruling to “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”

But not everyone is peeved. The decision cheered up any Republican leaders who remained sour that their hospitality to the far-right fringe came back to bite them last November.

In what’s turning into a tradition, tea-partying enthusiasts forced rabid Senate candidates onto the ballot in 2012. Some of them lost what might have been easy wins when they turned out to be too radical for the general public.

Then there’s the White House. Despite spending a record $1.2 billion to win the presidency, Mitt Romney and the GOP blew that race.

Yes, the GOP did hang onto its majority in the House of Representatives. But Republicans now only have a 33-seat edge on the competition in that chamber, down from the 49-seat margin they enjoyed before the 2012 elections.

Now, you might guess these great leaders would move swiftly to rebrand the GOP to appeal to more voters. Or distance their party from those vote-repelling tea partiers. Well, guess again. They’ve settled on a different strategy: cheating.

An earlier Supreme Court ruling helped make this new approach possible. Remember that Citizens United decision? It allowed corporations for the first time to buy directly into elections with unlimited contributions.

The Republicans found out in November, when Romney outspent Barack Obama by more than $100 million, that it will take more than gobs of corporate cash to win big.

But money is only one GOP angle. Another is fraud. No, no, not that Republicans will vote twice or anything so pedestrian.

Instead, they accuse poor people of voting fraudulently, and thereupon get legislatures to pass laws making voting a serious hassle if you’re not part of the in-group with a government-issued photo ID. Republican operatives are also fond of flyers and announcements that threaten insecure new citizens and poorly educated voters with arrest if their papers are not exactly in order.

Another voting deterrence tool is inconvenience. Other nations — and many states — have long worked to increase polling places, lengthen voting hours, stimulate mail balloting, and simplify procedures.

Contrarily, numerous Republican-controlled states are seeking to reverse all those trends. The GOP’s theory is simple enough: We know who poorer, less mobile people tend to vote for, and it isn’t us. Hey, let’s make it as hard for them to vote as we can.

Yet another tactic is gerrymandering. State legislatures normally draw boundaries not only for their own districts but for Congress as well. In some states, lawmakers exert this power mainly to protect their own personal seats.

Ginsburg calls these tactics “second-generation barriers to minority voting.” Thanks to that shiny new Supreme Court ruling, they’re now easier to pull off.

Now the Republican Party, wherever it’s in charge, is going further. It’s crowding Democratic voters, especially around urban centers, into a few contorted pockets. This practice spreads the Republican voters around, helping the GOP accumulate additional “safe” legislative and congressional seats.

The GOP’s creative redistricting explains why President Obama won Wisconsin by more than 200,000 votes while Democrats only carried three of the state’s eight congressional districts.

There’s more. Coming soon to a gerrymandered state near you: an attack on presidential elections.

Here’s how this trick works: Each state gets to determine how its own electoral votes will be allocated — either by a statewide “winner-take-all” system or by congressional district. Republican-gerrymandered states are moving quickly to distribute their electoral votes by congressional district.

Isn’t that convenient? Even if the Republican Party doesn’t need any more help from the Supreme Court, our democracy sure does.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. OtherWords.org  Photo credit to Denver Post Blog


A Global Spotlight on Voter Suppression

Heinous schemes to limit the right to vote keep appearing in state legislatures.

By Ron Carver

Ron Carver

Just before his death this past Thanksgiving, my friend Lawrence Guyot whispered one last assignment: We must “internationalize” the struggle over the right to vote.

Decades ago, our movement to end segregation and extend the full rights of citizenship to all had been an inspiration to those struggling for human rights around the world. Now, Guyot told me, those standing up for justice in other countries need to shine a global spotlight — a spotlight of shame — on renewed efforts to disenfranchise voters of color in America.

In the early 1960s, while others were concentrating on integrating bus transportation and lunch counters, Guyot was a leader and strategist of a student movement focused on challenging state-sanctioned segregation by registering Blacks to vote. The Klan, White Citizen Councils, and every apparatus of the local power structures fought back against the civil rights movement.

Activists, like Guyot, who led the struggle for the right to vote were jailed, beaten, and “‘buked and scorned,” as the civil rights anthem tells the story.


Thousands of African Americans trekked to the courthouses to take Mississippi’s literacy test and register to vote. Yet, regardless of their years of schooling, the local white registers came up with excuses to fail nearly all of them.

Then, in 1964, Guyot organized and chaired the multiracial Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to challenge the seating of the all-white Mississippi delegation to the Democratic National Convention held in Atlantic City that year.

Fearful of losing the Southern white vote, national party leaders offered to seat only a token two MFDP leaders, a compromise they rejected. “We didn’t come all this way for no two seats,” Fannie Lou Hamer said, “’cause all of us is tired” — tired of injustice. But as a direct result of Guyot’s efforts, 1964 was the last year Mississippi sent an all-white delegation to a Democratic National Convention.

In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, giving the federal government tools to finally enforce the voting rights that had been given to former slaves with the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1868.

That should have been the end of the story.

Sadly, bold and heinous schemes to limit the right to vote keep appearing in state legislatures.

In 2006, Congress debated renewing the Voting Rights Act for more than 10 months, holding 21 hearings and reviewing 15,000 pages of evidence. The Senate voted 98-0 and the House voted 390-33 to renew the law for another 25 years. The near-unanimity on the issue, in a time of fierce partisanship, confirmed there was no serious question about the continuing need for the federal government to defend the right to vote.

But now, Shelby County, Alabama, has brought a new challenge to the Supreme Court. It’s counting on conservative justices to turn back the clock to the bad old days.

That’s why Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa and human rights luminaries from 22 countries on five continents responded to Lawrence Guyot’s plea. They have sent an open letter imploring the Supreme Court to reject Alabama’s effort to weaken the mechanism that forbids discrimination.

These advocates state that they are in solidarity with those in our country who continue to fight “to prevent racist ingenuity from devising new obstacles” to minority voting. But Archbishop Tutu and the other signatories offer the justices their own concerns as well.

Their letter begins, “America’s leadership in voting rights has been a beacon of hope for millions around the world who have made their own sacrifices for freedom and democracy.” They close with this caution: “Beyond your borders, the global march toward justice will suffer grievous harm should you surrender to those who seek to disenfranchise American citizens.”

To Lawrence Guyot and all the martyrs, known and unknown, who shed their blood for the right to vote here in the United States of America, Rest In Peace.

Ron Carver, a former Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) field organizer, is an Institute for Policy Studies associate fellow. IPS-dc.org
Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)