Voting Rights–and Wrongs

Voting Rights–and Wrongs

The right to vote. People have fought for it, sacrificed for it, bled for it, died for it. And taken it for granted.

This right has demanded tortuous requirements, from both threats of and realities of violence– lynchings, cross burnings, beatings and rapes and murders, through loss of employment, loss of housing, loss of jobs; and insane, arcane impositions of property requirements, poll taxes, draconianly impossible literacy tests, illegal manipulations of legal maneuvers, and much more.

Last Wednesday, the year-long Democratic struggle to pass federal voting rights legislation died in the Senate, when Republicans blocked election bills for the fifth time in six months. Nor could Democrats pass it anyway, since they were unable to unite their caucus behind changing ancient filibuster rules (which, by the way, were not conceived by the Framers and are nowhere to be found in the Constitution), due to the very slim Democratic majority plus two intransigent Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kristin Sinema of Arizona. The final encounter–stewing since Democrats won congressional majorities a year ago, while Republican legislatures in 19 states began their campaign to roll back election access–began with a vote to close debate on the voting rights bill. Party lines. So much for “moderate” Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer then moved to propose a rules change allowing for the bill’s advancement with a simple majority of 51 votes, not the recently imposed 60-vote legislation margin. The Senate rejected that maneuver 52 to 48, when Manchin and Sinema joined all 50 Republicans united in opposition. So much for “moderate” Democrats.

For shame.

A Black American–three-fifths of a human being in the hallowed Constitution–still does not fully enjoy a safe, secure vote in the land of the free. It wasn’t until 1920 that women won the vote, but white women mostly profited while women of other ethnicities or economic levels were forced to share the plight of their disenfranchised men. It wasn’t until 1924 that Native American citizens won the right to vote in their own country. It was as late as 1943 that Chinese immigrants gained the right to vote. And so on.

There has never been “universal suffrage.” Children, at least above age 10, who arguably have the greatest right to vote since the future belongs to them, don’t have the vote–and that’s still considered a laughable matter when actually it’s dead serious. So-called “territories” of the United States — otherwise known as colonies? — don’t have the full vote. Washington DC itself has no voting representatives in the House and no Senator at all. One person one vote? Bitterly hilarious.

These were the bills over which so much sound and fury has been deployed. They are simple, clear, and were fielded in response to two severe suffrage setbacks: 1) the 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted the great 1965 Voting Rights Act as being “no longer necessary,” and 2) last year’s 52 restrictive voter laws passed in various states across the country, limiting options to vote and undermining local election officials’ ability to mind elections; these voter laws include, for example, Georgia’s criminalization of handing out water to voters standing in long lines.

Conventional wisdom says never bring votes to the floor if you don’t know for sure that they will pass — and even some friends and allies wonder why did the Democrats, knowing the result, do so?

I have a simple answer. Because it’s moral and ethical. Because the American people have a right to know where their representatives stand, to know if they will dare to oppose this most basic right in a democracy. Hopefully, this will be remembered by voters at the polls. Here are the two bills: the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voter Rights Advancement Act–because you deserve to know what you’ve lost.

The Freedom to Vote Act would:
1. Guarantee all eligible American citizens have equal access to vote and;
2. Establish standards to improve security, transparency, and trust in elections.
Specifically, the Freedom to Vote Act would:
–Create nationwide voter ID standards.
–Require 15 days of early voting and voting by mail options for all voters.
–Ensure every ballot has a paper trail, and every voter can track their mail in ballot.
–Make election day a federal holiday.
–Fund strong, state-run audits to protect democracy and election integrity,
–Allow same-day voter registration for American citizens with proper identification.

And The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would have made illegal voting rules that discriminate on the basis of race, language, or ethnicity, and empower voters to challenge discriminatory laws.

That’s the sum of it. Simple, right, clear. And for now, crushed.

Shame, shame, shame.