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

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The Modern Movement for Civil Rights

Congress must act to correct the Supreme Court’s many wrongs.

— by Julian Bond

Julian_Bond

The racial picture in America has improved remarkably in my lifetime, so much so that a black man has been elected and re-elected President of the United States — an unthinkable development just a few years ago.

But paradoxically, Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 convinced many that all racial barriers and restrictions had been vanquished and we had entered racial nirvana across the land.

This was just one of the many unfair burdens placed on Obama’s presidency. We knew that his victory didn’t herald a post-civil rights America or mean that race had been vanquished. It couldn’t eliminate structural inequity or racist attitudes.

The truth is that Jim Crow may be dead, but racism is alive and well. That’s the central fact of life for every non-white American, including the President of the United States. It eclipses income, position, and education. Race trumps them all.

Voting Rights Obstacles, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Voting Rights Obstacles, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib.

Our first order of business now needs to be demanding that Congress reformulate the pre-clearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court has just invalidated.

Like the Court’s affirmative action ruling the day before, the voting rights decision could have been worse.

But we can’t live with “it could have been worse,” especially when it comes to voting. We must insist on “it has to be the best.”

This ruling was devious and perverse.

It was devious because the Court’s majority used Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act to effectively end Section 5, essentially voiding the federal government’s ability to guarantee minority access to the polls. At the same time, the ruling sidestepped the court’s historic deference to Congress and blamed lawmakers for not updating the formula.

It was perverse because these justices cited the fact that large numbers of blacks voted in 2012 as a reason to take away the law that allowed them to vote.

Today, we have much more to work with and we take heart that so much has changed. The changes that have come have everything to do with the work of the modern movement for civil rights.

There needs to be a constantly growing and always reviving activist movement across America if we are going to maintain and expand victories and our vision for the country.

We must not forget that Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before and with thousands — the people who made the mighty movement what it was.

From Jamestown’s slave pens to Montgomery’s boycotted buses, these ordinary men and women labored in obscurity. From Montgomery forward they provided the foot soldiers of the freedom army. They shared, with King, “an abiding faith in America.”

They walked in dignity, rather than ride in shame. They faced bombs in Birmingham and mobs in Mississippi. They sat down at lunch counters so others could stand up. They marched and they organized.

King didn’t march from Selma to Montgomery by himself. He didn’t speak to an empty field at the March on Washington.

There were thousands marching with him, and before him, and thousands more who did the dirty work that preceded the triumphal march.

The successful strategies of the modern movement for civil rights were litigation, organization, mobilization, and coalition, all aimed at creating a national constituency for civil rights. Sometimes the simplest of deeds — sitting at a lunch counter, going to a new school, applying for a marriage license, casting a vote — can challenge the way we think and act.

Racial justice, economic equality, and world peace — these were the themes that occupied King’s life. They ought to occupy ours today.

We have a long and honorable tradition of social justice in this country. It still sends forth the message that when we act together we can overcome.

A first order of business might be gathering in Washington on August 24 to commemorate the 1963 March on Washington and to demand that Congress act to correct the Supreme Court’s many wrongs.


Julian Bond was Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors from February 1998 until February 2010 and is now Chairman Emeritus. He is a Distinguished Scholar in the School of Government at American University in Washington, DC, and a Professor Emeritus in History at the University of Virginia.  Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org

Top Senate Republican Hints Voting Rights Act May Be Held Hostage In Exchange For Voter Suppression

— by Ian Millhiser on Jun 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Tuesday’s decision neutering a key prong of the Voting Rights Act leaves supporters of voting rights in a difficult position. If they do nothing, voter suppression laws can go into effect, and may not be struck down by the courts until after they have succeeded in disenfranchising many voters. Yet the Roberts Court’s decision to hollow out America’s voting rights protections also allows conservatives to exact concessions before the voting rights regime that five Republican justices killed can be restored.

Shortly after the decision, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, dropped a hint at just what those concessions could be — give the greenlight to a common GOP-backed voter suppression law, or the heart of the Voting Rights Act is dead forever. In an interview with CBS News, Grassley claimed he is “open to looking at ways to address the issues addressed in the court’s decision.” Yet he added that he believed the Justice Department was wrong to use the act to block “common sense measures such as voter identification laws.”

Voter ID laws are not common sense, and they are exactly the kind of device the Voting Rights Act was enacted to prevent. Although Republicans often claim these laws are needed to prevent voter fraud at the polls, such fraud is virtually non-existent. A study of Wisconsin voters found that only 0.00023 percent of votes are the product of in-person voter fraud, meaning that a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit fraud at the polls.

What voter ID laws do accomplish, however, is removing many low-income voters, students and people of color from the electorate — all of which are groups that tend to vote for Democrats. The entire purpose of the Voting Rights Act is to block laws that suppress voting among racial minorities, so the Justice Department correctly invoked the act to hold up voter ID laws.

Now, however, Grassley’s statement suggests that Republicans could demand that voter ID laws be given an exemption from the Voting Rights Act before the act can be reinstated. In essence, Republicans could block the most effective mechanism of stopping voter suppression laws unless the new voting rights law exempts the GOP’s favorite tactic for suppressing minority votes.


This material [the article above] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe.