By Tom Burke / Herald columist
My uncle Ken used to talk about living in Jim Crow Mississippi in the early ’40s, and how keeping “those” people from voting was easy: Ya just gave ‘em a ball point pen, a piece of wax paper, and said, “Sign here.” No signature, no voting. Or they’d ask them to read a newspaper. Printed in Chinese. “No readee, no votee,” they would grin and tell ‘em.
Today, voter suppression is much more sophisticated, so legislative districts are scientifically gerrymandered; polling places are closed or moved, but no one is told; Sunday voting — “souls to the polls” — is abolished; hours-long lines are created but food and beverages are prohibited; and one Republican state proposed its lawmakers ignore the popular vote and decide themselves which who gets its electoral votes, overriding the voters’ choice.
Republicans want to crush vote-by-mail, eliminate ballot drop boxes, cut early voting and hours, and tighten rules on absentee voting, all to essentially create a voting system tailored to the voting tendency of older white Republican voters.
Why, you ask?
Why to stop voter fraud, of course.
But, but … widespread fraud doesn’t exist, you, and voting officials nationally, Trump’s Department of Homeland Security, and 60-plus courts say. Voter fraud has been proven to be The Big Lie, spread by the Big Lier-In-Chief, Donald Trump (and all his lying little friends).
So yeah, there was no voter fraud; so why then all the voter suppression?
Because if Black, Indigenous and People of Color and young voters can’t be suppressed, how are Republicans gonna win?
They can’t. Just ask Trump, “They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again. … We can never allow this (Democratic victories) to happen again.”
Or Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C.: “Without changes, we’re never going to win again presidentially … we’re going to lose the ability to elect a Republican in this country.”
Or look at demographic projections for the next decade and beyond and how white, Southern voters will be overwhelmed, in pure population numbers, by “those” people.
Which means insane levels of Republican voter suppression but a vigorous voting rights response via two packages of legislation: the House-passed For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.
Now the For the People Act sets federal standards so every voter, regardless of their race, age, or ZIP code, has equal access to the ballot box; strengthens ethics and conflict-of-interest laws; ends partisan gerrymandering; and a whole lot more.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act responds to current suppression efforts by restoring the full protections of the original, bipartisan Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was last reauthorized by Congress in 2006, but gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.
For public consumption the Republicans say these are bad bills because they usurp “states rights.” (Where have we heard that phrase before? In 1860-1865?) But when Trump, Graham, and others say the quiet part out loud, they confess Republican voter suppression is designed to keep Republicans in office, because a fair voting system dooms them and their policies to the garbage tip.
The Senate Republican tool to facilitate voter suppression is the filibuster, which, according to the Senate glossary, is an “informal term for any attempt to block or delay Senate action on a bill or other matter by debating it at length, by offering numerous procedural motions, or by any other delaying or obstructive actions.”
Practically speaking, it means a minority of 41 senators can gridlock the legislative process and stop anything and everything the legitimate majority wants to do. Unless, a simple majority (say 50 Democratic senators and the vice presidents) votes to eliminate or drastically change the rule.
And yes, eliminating the filibuster is a big, complex deal all tangled up in arcane rules and long-term strategy. But the real issue isn’t Senate protocol, but is, as Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., said, “The one person, one vote is being threatened right now. Politicians … in their craven lust for power have launched a full-fledged assault on voting rights and on democracy itself.”
This attack, this assault, this perversion of democracy we cannot abide. And Joe Biden has been clear calling this threat “sick” and “despicable.”
But Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a Big Lie Republican, continues in his lying ways saying, “The For the People Act is unnecessary because states are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever.”
But of course they are. Currently at least 165 proposals, in 33 states, are under consideration to restrict future voting access. And the Georgia governor just signed voter suppression legislation that President Biden starkly called, “Jim Crow in the 21 stcentury. It must end. We have a moral and constitutional obligation to act.”
Stay safe. Mask up.
Tom Burke’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.