By Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr.
(TriceEdneyWire.com) - The story of American democracy has been the expansion of voting rights to more and more citizens. Yet now, conservatives linked to the Republican Party are systematically seeking to constrict the vote.
We can’t let them get away with this.
In the early republic, voting was often reserved for white male landowners. Over time, the vote was extended to working people, to women, to those 18 and older. The passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was one of the transformative victories of the civil rights movement. Progressive movements have pushed reforms to make voting easier — same-day voter registration, extended voting days and hours, voting by mail.
Now, however, across the country, we see a systematic effort to suppress the vote. Tactics include:
Voter ID laws: According to a study by the Brennan Center, more than a half-dozen Republican-dominated states have passed legislation requiring an official state photo ID to vote. This makes voting harder for those without a driver’s license: the poor, students, urban dwellers, seniors and minorities. Brennan estimates that 5 million people could be hit by the laws. In 30 states, legislators have received “voter fraud” legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the notorious right-wing network funded by the Koch brothers and others.
Voter purges: Ohio has purged some 1,100,000 voters from its rolls since 2010. Cuyahoga County, which includes Democratic-rich Cleveland, led with 267,071 voters removed from the rolls. Franklin County, including Ohio’s capital, Columbus, removed 93,578 voters. Those purged came disproportionately from counties with high minority populations. Similarly, in Florida, another key state, voter officials seem to gearing up an effort to purge the lists, with a focus on Latino voters.
Intimidating voter-registration groups: The majority of those signed up in registration drives tend to be low-income or minority voters likely to support Democratic candidates. So conservatives have moved legislation to threaten voter-registration groups. In Florida, a new law imposing harsh penalties for registration mistakes led the League of Women Voters to discontinue its program altogether.
Eliminating same-day registration; curtailing early voting: In Maine and Ohio, conservatives sought to eliminate same-day voter registration (a citizen uprising blocked them in Maine). Five states — again including the key swing states Florida and Ohio — have passed laws rolling back early voting options.
Targeted tricks: Negative ads disgust and discourage voters. Now, with unaccountable SuperPACs that don’t have to identify their donors, it will get uglier. We’ll witness phone calls designed to confuse African Americans about when Election Day occurs or direct mail warning Hispanics that failure to carry proof of citizenship will lead to arrest.
We’ve seen this before. In 2006, the Republican National Committee paid for fliers in Virginia telling African Americans to “skip this vote.”
SuperPACs can do this with no accountability. They can be created a month before the election and dissolved the day after. Their donors can be anonymous. They disavow any connection with any campaign.
This is ugly stuff. These are the tactics of a minority party seeking to use money, power and dirty tricks to distort the vote. It has already started. We must reclaim our democracy from those who would traduce it.