The right to vote is everything in a democracy.
Without influence over power, you are completely vulnerable to that power. There is no way to achieve prosperity or provide personal protection when you live in a society in which people who share your interests are inhibited from their political participation.
So the current efforts of Republicans across the country are a frightening omen as well as a strange echo.
Ever since blacks gained the right to vote during Reconstruction, racist whites have tried to deprive as many of them of that right as possible. In fact, disenfranchising people of color and immigrants is the overwhelming story of voter suppression in this country.
Whites not only wanted the power that resulted from winning elections, they insisted on the power to shape the electorate who could participate in the elections.
It was done through intimidation and terror. This was also done by law and ordinance. No one wanted “black domination” or the possibility that the black vote could be decisive.
Black people faced these voter suppression efforts, directly, for nearly a century, until the successes of the civil rights movement led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But in no sooner have certain barriers fallen than others have been lifted. Mass incarceration arose, a phenomenon that disproportionately affected blacks and once again deprived many of their right to vote.
Then came the backlash from the first black president, and the Supreme Court’s ousting the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Now you have the electoral lie coming from a white supremacist president who was defeated in part because of of the vote of people of color in the key. States.
As the Brennan Center for Justice noted last month, “The United States is well on its way to passing its most recent period of significant voter suppression – 2011”.
The centre’s report continued:
The restrictive laws of 2011 were enacted after the 2010 elections brought a significant change in political control over state houses – and as the country faced backlash to the election of its first black president . Today’s attacks on voting come from similar sources: the allegations of racist electoral fraud behind the Big Lie and the desire to prevent future elections from reaching the historic turnout seen in 2020.
There has never been anything delicate or elegant about suppressing voters. It’s a club. But those who suppress have learned ways to disguise their tactics, to no longer explicitly identify race in the language of legislation. Instead, they use poverty as an indicator of race. They examine the culture for role models, like black churches that help members at the polls on Sundays, and they narrow down the conditions that make role models possible.
And they add voter suppression to societal oppression. When transportation is an obstacle for some, they reduce the number of polling stations and drop boxes. When people have difficulty obtaining state identification, they demand it. Where people can miss a few elections, they serve them.
One of the mechanisms used during Jim Crow to suppress the black vote was the imposition of a voting tax. Some white voters were put down by this, but the biggest effect was on black voters.
We have again a voting tax, only it is not paid in currency but in inconvenience. When people have to queue for hours to vote, that is also a tax. The vote tax is a tax on skin color because black people are more likely to have to wait.
As a study published in Scientific American in 2019 noted: “Voters in predominantly black neighborhoods waited 29% longer, on average, than those in white neighborhoods. They were also around 74% more likely to wait longer than half an hour. “
I don’t see how anyone, including President Biden and his administration, can focus on anything other than that right now. Biden is incredibly focused on his infrastructure bill, but who needs a new bridge when your franchise has been restricted?
We cannot view what is happening with voter suppression right now as another horrible thing the Republican Party is doing. And we cannot see it as a simple maneuver to alter the presidential results.
When you can’t vote, you can’t vote for anything from the president to the local school board. The suppression of voters is to silence, it is to weaken, it is to control by constriction.
Blacks and other people of color have played a central role in some recent elections. Republicans are determined to ensure, through disenfranchisement, that this does not happen again anytime soon.