16 October 2014

Bob Bites Back

In 1965, the United States finally became a democracy. The minimal standard for a democracy is that there are at least two political parties, the entire adult population has the right to vote, and the vote is fairly counted.

   The Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally enforced the right of black Americans to vote, primarily in the states of the old Confederacy. Historically, blacks had been subject to impediments to voting ranging from lynching, beating and intimidation – to paying a poll tax, passing a literacy test, and subjected to “white­only” primaries.

   So extreme was the racial apartheid in the South that the law created a new job category: armed federal registrars.

   Congress’ commitment to the Voting Rights Act has been overwhelming and steadfast. In 2006, the U.S. House of Representatives renewed the Voting Rights Act by a vote of 390­33, and by a vote of 98­0 in the U.S. Senate.

   Still, the targeting of black voters in the South re­emerged with the new millennium and the practices migrated to the North and pretty much all over the country. Recall that in the 2000 presidential election, Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s state police put up blockades to stop black voters in church buses and vans from going to the polls by targeting the drivers for not having a “taxi” driver’s license.

   In 2004, voter intimidation traveled to the Midwest under the influence of the notorious Ohio Secretary of State, J. Kenneth Blackwell. Although Blackwell was the first black statewide office holder in Ohio, he perfected the mass purging of black voters in the state’s urban areas. In the 2004 election year, when no election purges are to happen, over 300,000 voters were removed from the voting rolls in the Toledo, Cleveland and Cincinnati areas. Shockingly, 24.96 percent of all voters in Cleveland were stricken from the rolls, overwhelmingly black and voting at a 94 to 6 percent margin for John Kerry over George W. Bush.

Voting Rights fix is a step backward

   With the new manifestation of Jim Crow spreading out of the South to a dozen or so battleground states across the U.S., the U.S. Supreme Court took the opportunity to strike down Section 4B of the Voting Rights Act.

   Essentially, the formula for what states and municipalities are to be closely scrutinized by the federal government for racial discrimination in voting was overturned in a 5­4 vote. The Act required that certain jurisdictions with past discrimination practices had to submit any proposed changes in voting procedures to the U.S. Department of Justice or the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C.

   For example, the new wave of Voter ID laws had to be submitted in advance to determine if the law discriminate against blacks. The newly proposed Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 introduced in Congress in January is a huge step backwards for minority voting rights in the U.S.

 Ohio is “bailed in”

  On the positive side, the Act would allow jurisdictions like Ohio, not previously covered by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, to be included for pre­approval scrutiny of our state’s voting procedures. The term they use to include new states is “bailed in.”

   Also, the new Act allows for a “bail­in” whether a state or jurisdiction’s violation is intentional or not. For example, you wouldn’t have to prove that Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s restriction that there be only one Early Voting Center per county is intentionally racist. You could simply do the math and realize how it would inconvenience hundreds of thousands of black voters, particularly in Cuyahoga County, with a population of 1.265 million while not forcing Vinton County nearly all­white population of 13,239 to wait for hours in line.

 Voter ID laws exempted

   The major defect in the proposed new voting rights law (HR 3899/S.1945) is that it now exempts Voter ID laws. Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R) introduced the House Bill stating that his intent was to “permit states to enact reasonable Voter ID laws.”

   Data indicates that Voter ID laws are inherently discriminatory. Nationwide studies document that one in four black Americans lack government­issued photo IDs, as do 15 percent of Latinos. Moreover, Voter ID laws discriminate against elderly, young and poor voters. Eighteen percent of those over age 65 do not have a state ID or driver’s license. Fifteen percent of whom make under $35,000/year lack proper ID.

Many students who have photo IDs from government­sponsored public colleges and universities find that many states will not accept those IDs for voting purposes.

   Ohio Republicans passed House Bill 159 in 2011. This Voter ID law would have disenfranchised an estimated 900,000 Ohio voters. This law was repealed in 2012 after progressive forces placed a statewide referendum to overturn it on the ballot.

   The massive voter purges that occurred in Ohio between 2005 and 2008, when 1.25 million voters were purged from voting rolls, and from 2009­2012 when another 1.1 million were purged, will no longer be the New Jim Crow model. What the new misnamed Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 does is encourage Republican legislators to pass racist and class­based Voter ID laws that usher in the newer era of Jim Crow.

   Behind these new draconian measures are the Koch Brothers and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) model legislation that Ohio Republican officials appear to have embraced. Governor John Kasich and Husted realize that Republicans cannot win in Ohio when the minimal standard of democracy – the enfranchisement of all citizens regardless of race, creed, color, or religion – is enforced.