Voter Suppression in 2012, Past is Prologue

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[The View From Washington]

In 1870 Congress ratified the 15th Amendment to the Constitution which declared, “The right of citizen’s of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude...“

In response to this Amendment a number of former Confederate states employed devises such as the poll tax, literacy tests, the grandfather clause, and white primaries to ensure  that African American’s were denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote.  When these devices failed, tactics such as night rides, bombings, lynching, and other terrorist tactics were used to intimidate prospective African American voters.

After years of struggle in the courts, legislatures, and the streets, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibiting “covered jurisdictions” from imposing any "voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure ... to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color." Some of the jurisdictions covered by the Act are in Alabama, South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.  Before he signed the 1965 Act Johnson explained, “This act flows from a clear and simple wrong. Its only purpose is to right that wrong. Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote.”

Today this ugly part of America’s past has once again become its present. As a result of Republican’s taking control of statehouses after the 2010 mid-term elections, a number of states such as Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi (sound familiar) and others have enacted laws imposing new restrictions  for voter ID, voter registration, and early voting.

According to the report Voting Law Changes in 2012 from the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, these new restrictions will have a disproportionate impact on younger voters, people of color, low-income voters, and those with disabilities.  It’s no coincidence that these demographics also tend to vote for Democrats.  According to The NY Times, “It has been a record year for new legislation designed to make it harder for Democrats to vote — 19 laws and two executive actions in 14 states dominated by Republicans…”

President  Johnson said in 1965, "This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies."  For some reason the very people who claim they want to “take their country back”; want to “restore America to its original ideals”; and “protect liberty for all Americans” are working insidiously to deny the franchise to a significant number of American citizens, particularly younger and poorer citizens of color. Studies show that as many as 11 percent of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo ID.

The report makes it clear that the impact on the outcome of the 2012 election could be significant. Even if President Obama is reelected its impact on the House, Senate, and statehouse races could be dramatic.  “This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election. Based on the Brennan Center’s analysis of the 19 laws and two executive actions that passed in 14 states, it is clear that:

[] These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.
[] The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.”

Republicans are using the pretext of “voter fraud” as the rational for their unconstitutional attack on democracy and specifically voters who are more inclined to vote for a Democrat. The actual fraud is not being perpetrated by the voter; it’s being perpetrated by the Republican elected officials who continue to tell this lie. According to the editorial, The Myth of Voter Fraud, “None of these explanations are true. There is almost no voting fraud in America. And none of the lawmakers who claim there is have ever been able to document any but the most isolated cases.”

To his credit, Attorney General Eric Holder has laid out a plan for the Justice Department to take an aggressive stance in reviewing those new laws and he is acting on it. Just this month the Justice Department under AG Holder’s direction blocked Texas from enforcing a new disproportionately restrictive voter ID law.  This mirror’s the action taken in South Carolina in December of 2011.  President Obama and others concerned about equality and democracy in America should be more outspoken on this issue.  This is a deliberate and direct attack on American democracy.

President Johnson was correct in 1965 when he said, “Presidents and Congresses, laws and lawsuits can open the doors to the polling places and open the doors to the wondrous rewards which await the wise use of the ballot. But only the individual Negro, and all others who have been denied the right to vote, can really walk through those doors, and can use that right, and can transform the vote into an instrument of justice and fulfillment. So, let me now say to every Negro in this country: You must register. You must vote. You must learn, so your choice advances your interest and the interest of our beloved Nation. Your future, and your children's future, depend upon it, and I don't believe that you are going to let them down.”

It’s not the “Negro” who is letting “our beloved Nation” down.  It’s Republican’s in states such as Alabama, South Carolina, Texas, and Mississippi who are trying to turn back the clock in America by   closing the doors to democracy that were opened with the 15th Amendment and the 1965 Act.  Suppressing the vote in America in 2012, past is prologue.

Dr. Wilmer Leon is the Producer/ Host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program "Inside the Issues with  WilmerLeon," and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  Go to , email:

© 2012 InfoWave Communications, LLC.

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