is the title of this Eugene Robinson column on the Republican effort to disenfranchise the young and minorities.
The specifics of the title come from Republican Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina having claimed that dead people were voting in her state. The state's election commission investigated her assertions of 953 zombie voters. Allow me to quote Robinson's two paragraphs of the results of that investigation:
The number of voters came from a crude comparison of records done by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. The elections commission actually found 207 contested votes. Of that total, 106 reflected clerical errors by poll workers, 56 reflected errors by the motor vehicles department, 32 involved people who were mistakenly listed as having voted, and three involved people who had cast absentee ballots and then died before Election Day.Robinson then points out other kinds of fraud that would not be caught by the new onerous picture id laws that fall predominantly on minorities, poor and the young - in other words, on groups that would vote largely Democratic:
That left 10 contested votes — count ’em, 10 — that could not be immediately resolved. However, the commission found no evidence of fraud. Or of zombies.
crooked poll workers, for example, could record votes in the names of citizens who actually stayed home. Election officials could design ballots in a way that worked to a specific candidate’s advantage or disadvantage (see Florida, 2000). But none of this would be prevented by photo ID, which still hasn’t found a problem to solve — except, perhaps, an excess of Democratic votersBut there is something far more basic in the Republican approach, and as much I encourage you to read and pass on Robinson's column, and as important as it is for the facts that allow pushback against Republican claims, it is that basic idea I wish to explore. For me it is personal.
In the name of safeguarding the sanctity of the ballot, Republicans are trying to exclude citizens they consider likely to vote for Democrats — the young, the poor, the black and brown. Those who love democracy cannot allow this foul subterfuge to succeed.That final paragraph from Robinson is why I decided to write this post. Let me explain.
First, I live in Virginia. For years the Commonwealth was infamous for keeping its voter registration rolls small. This in fact was the deliberate policy of the Byrd machine, founded by Senator Harry F. Byrd Senior, which ran the state. Now, before any trolls start, yes he was a Democrat, as were the Segregrationists across the South. But those Segregationists moved from the Democratic party after Lyndon Johnson pushed through first the Civil Rights Act in 1964, and then followed that with things like the Voting Rights Act (whose intent is clearly being flouted by these new laws), the Fair Housing Act, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. Johnson's Great Society program, which also gave us the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Medicare, and Medicaid, was an attempt fully to include all Americans in the economic and political life of this nation, to truly make America the Great Society that was promised in its founding documents, in the Declaration and in the Preamble to the Constitution.
Johnson took the actions he did knowing the political consequences would be to the lose the South for a generation. It was not quite that long. Jimmy Carter, himself a Southerner, carried most of the Southern states in, 1976, although not Virginia. Another Southerner, Bill Clinton, carried many Southern states in 1992 and/or 1996. But not Virginia, and also not North Carolina.
Absent the Voting Rights Act, we would not have a large Congressional Black Caucus.
Now those who were segregationists, those who still are racists, are rarely found running under the Democratic banner. Instead they proudly run as Republicans.
The Civil Rights Act could not have been passed in the Senate without the help of Republican Leader Everett Dirksen of IL. Now we have a Republican leader from Kentucky who thinks his primary responsibility is to make the nation's first African-American President fail - that is his idea of governance.
Johnson made clear all Americans should be included in the American Dream.
Republicans today seem to think that first they should take care of the wealthy and the powerful, and throw only enough bones and scraps to ensure sufficient votes to get them into and then keep them in power. They will find a few faces of color to give them cover - South Asians Jindal and Haley, African-Americans like Allen West, Hispanics like Brian Sandoval and Bobby Jindal.
Their attitude towards politics is that each vote that would be for a Democrat that they can suppress equals a +1 for them. Why care about appealing to the broadest coalition if one can win a plurality of a reduced electorate?
Perhaps it is right that the party they oppose is titled Democratic, because surely by these efforts Republican are demonstrating that they do not believe in democracy.
I said it was personal for me.
It is not just that I live in the Old Dominion of Virginia.
At least through the end of this school year, I teach government to young people.
I teach in a majority black school.
I think of my two non-AP classes.
Together they contain 46 students. Of these two are Filipino by background, four are Hispanic, one is South Asian, and the rest are Black. All people of color.
These are the kind of people upon whom the new voter id laws fall disproportionally.
These are the kind of people the Republicans would like to keep from voting.
At least in Maryland, a heavily Democratic state, with an African-American Lieutenant Governor from the County in which I teach (heavily African-American) and a white Governor who used to be mayor of Baltimore, a majority Black city, we will not get such voter id laws.
Of those 46 students, some are totally disconnected from politics, but all know who Obama is, and I doubt there are 4 who would if voting even consider Romney against the President.
None of them is wealthy, most will need aid to attend college beyond 2 years at the local community college.
I am supposed to teach them about American government. On paper I can look at the expansion of the franchise, the increase in democracy over time - Amendments 15, 17, 19, 23, 24, and 26 all in some way increased Democracy. One can even argue that the 22nd also ensured Democracy by preventing a president from simply staying in power using the advantage of incumbency (although I would note during the past 5 decades Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush were denied reelection, Gerald Ford was denied election to his own term, Lyndon Johnson was basically forced to withdraw from reelection, against which one has Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and the younger Bush gaining 2nd terms).
That Republicans seem determined to move in the opposite direction, to limit the franchise as a means of winning elections, is contrary to what I should be teaching my students.
I try to persuade them that their participation in politics and elections matters.
My AP classes are far more diverse. Some of those students have noted the tendency towards suppressing the turnout of groups with which they identify. They wonder what that means for their future.
In the long term, it will not matter. The changing nature of America means that people of color will play increasing roles politically. Already our two largest states, California and Texas, are no longer by population majority white.
Racist and discriminatory laws can cause blowback - I once attended a fundraiser for Russ Feingold that was full of wealthy Pakistani Americans - doctors, lawyers, engineers, business men. They were supporting Russ because of his vote in opposition to the USA Patriot Act - they knew that law would be used against them and theirs.
There is one additional line from Robinson's piece worth quoting: If you thought Republicans and Democrats agreed that more Americans should register to vote, you were sadly mistaken.
Republicans do NOT believe in Democracy. They do NOT believe in full participation by all Americans. They look for excuses to deny others the right to participate. They would exclude by religion, by race, by national origin, by any category they can consider as "other,"
Now they even attack the poor - the rhetoric about more than half of Americans who don't pay income tax is illustrative of their attempts at class warfare. Maybe if the economics of this nation were not so skewed against the working class, maybe if the minimum wage were at the 14 or 15 dollars an hour it should be those people would earn enough money to pay income taxes, on top of the payroll and sales taxes they already pay, giving them a higher overall tax burden than the Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
We should be encouraging all Americans to register and to vote.
Then let the parties, the candidates, compete to win the most votes.
Whoever can win under those circumstances truly has the support of the American people.
If you seek to disenfranchise your political opponents, it can only be because of fear that you cannot otherwise win elections.
So let's be clear.
The Republican attempts at suppressing the votes of the young, black and brown, the poor, are because they know they cannot win if those Americans are allowed to vote.
It it the Byrd machine of Virginia all over again.
It is the pre-Voting Rights Act South, in counties in the Black Belt of Alabama or in the Mississippi Delta where 80% of the population might be Black but there were no black voters.
Whatever that is, it is not my vision of an America that lives up to its promise.
A promise reaffirmed in perhaps our most important speech ever, given by our greatest President in the midst of our most horrible war.
Lincoln urged that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom - instead the Republicans seem willing to retrench, to take the freedom of voting away from many, including the descendants of the slaves that war was, by Gettysburg, intended to free.
Lincoln's final words are, to my mind applicable. Allow me to borrow them. Allow me to argue that to move to restrict voting on the false premise of voter fraud is a denial of the freedom for which so many died in the 1860s. It is wrong when "voter integrity" campaigns challenge black voters, as a young William Rehnquist did in Arizona, and which was how Tom Kean narrowly won the governors' race in New Jersey. It is just as wrong to impose burdens that fall disproportionally on certain groups. While the current Supreme Court has at least 4 and possibly 4 Justices who would disagree, I would argue that it is as much a denial of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment as a unanimous Court found segregated schools to be almost 6 decades ago in the Brown decision.
We must act against these attempts to disenfranchise, so, in Lincoln's words, that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth..