Reps. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) defended the legacy of martyrs who died for voting rights when they blocked, for a few hours, Jan. 6, the certification of Ohio’s Electoral College votes to force a debate on the widespread vote suppression and irregularities on Nov. 2.

We reprint on the next page excerpts from their floor speeches that ring with the same conviction as Dr. Martin Luther King’s demands for voting rights. In her floor speech, Tubbs Jones cited “the plight of hundreds and even thousands of Ohio voters … denied the right to vote. … If they are willing to stand at the polls for countless hours in the rain as many did in Ohio, then I can surely stand up for them here in the halls of Congress.”

She thanked Boxer for joining the challenge. Not a single senator joined in the Congressional Black Caucus effort to challenge the stealing of the 2000 election in Florida.

Jocelyn Travis, who served as statewide coordinator of the Ohio Election Protection Coalition, hailed the lawmakers’ courageous stand.

“Stephanie Tubbs Jones was speaking for a majority of her constituents and so were Conyers, and Senator Boxer,” Travis told the World in a telephone interview from her office in Cleveland. “They were the target of ridicule and verbal abuse but they took a stand anyway. This is supposed to be a civilized society. We need to deal with the systemic problems in our election system. So many people, especially African American and Latino voters, were denied their voting rights because their registrations were not entered or there were too few voting machines. Too many provisional ballots were discarded. Many first-time voters lost confidence that the system is fair.”

The U.S., she added, needs a uniform voting system like most other nations to replace the crazy quilt of state and local election procedures. “We as a nation and a community must work to resolve these problems if we want to restore confidence in our elections.”

The lawmakers’ speeches came at the beginning of the 40th anniversary year of the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA). As if to remind the nation of that blood-drenched era, police last week arrested a Mississippi Ku Klux Klansman in the murder 41 years ago of three civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney. The youth, one Black, the others white, were lynched while working to sign up Black voters in Mississippi.

The challenge to widespread voter suppression in Ohio Nov. 2 brought home that the struggle for the right to vote is not yet fully won four decades after the VRA’s passage.

In some ways, the Republican voter suppression tactics are more insidious than the literacy tests and poll taxes of the earlier era. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush hired Choice Point, a state-of-the-art data-mining firm, to purge his state’s voter rolls of 90,000 or more voters in 2000. Voting machines with no verifiable paper trail opened the door for hackers to stuff ballot boxes without leaving fingerprints.

It would be a mistake to focus only on the negatives. The 2004 election set many new records for voter turnout. An all-time record 13.6 million Black voters went to the polls Nov. 2, three million more than in the stolen 2000 election, a 25 percent increase. Overwhelmingly they voted against George W. Bush. Contrary to early exit polls, Latino voters, too, voted in record numbers against Bush-Cheney.

Speaking to a Nov. 10 conference sponsored by the National Coalition on Black Voter Participation, the Rev. Jesse Jackson credited the youth movement. He cited the “Vote or Die” and “Hip Hop Voter” projects, which registered and turned out millions of new voters. “Young Americans were at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and the Voting Rights Act, and it is young Americans today that are leading the charge for voting rights and participation,” he said.

Still, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of voters were denied their right to vote last Nov. 2. Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told a Dec. 15 post-election conference in Washington that Election Protection volunteers across the nation reported 40,000 voter complaints of irregularities, including harassment and intimidation at polling places across the nation.

So this year’s commemoration of VRA’s passage is more than an exercise in nostalgia. The fight to defend and extend the right to vote is here and now.

Organizers plan to reenact the march from Selma to Montgomery that galvanized Congress and the Johnson administration to approve the VRA 40 years ago. Titled “Jubilee 2005,” marchers will walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, March 5, commemorating “Bloody Sunday” March 21, 1965, when Alabama state troopers and Selma police brutally attacked peaceful demonstrators demanding enactment of the VRA.

In outrage, Dr. King sent out a telegram to thousands of clergymen. “In the vicious maltreatment of defenseless citizens of Selma, where old women and young children were gassed and clubbed at random, we have witnessed an eruption of racism which seeks to destroy all America,” Dr. King wrote. “No American is without responsibility… . I call on clergy of all faiths to join me in Selma.”

Millions turned out for protest rallies and marches in towns and cities in the days that followed. The march from Selma to Montgomery proceeded and the VRA became law. Yet some made the ultimate sacrifice. Klan assassins shot to death Detroit housewife, Viola Liuzzo, wife of a Teamster organizer, who had come as a volunteer to chauffeur people between Selma and Montgomery. Earlier, Klan assassins murdered James Read and Jimmy Lee Jackson for their role in the Selma voting rights struggle.

Those joining in the reenactment of that march will be demanding extension of sections of the VRA that are scheduled to lapse within the next two years. Congress last voted in 1982 to extend it for 25 years.

The VRA includes the section requiring bilingual ballots in three states, Texas, New Mexico, and California, as well as the section of the law requiring election monitors in states with a history of voter disenfranchisement. Also needing renewal is the requirement that states and jurisdictions with a history of excluding minority voters prove that changes in voting procedures will not negatively impact minority voters. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s gerrymandering of congressional districts in Texas to insure five more Republican seats shows how needed that protection is. His scam, for which he may well be indicted, is deeply racist in its impact.

The fight is not limited to extension of the VRA. It also includes measures to strengthen the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). The election reform movement seeks to make it easier for ex-felons to win back their right to vote. It favors voting machines with a verifiable paper trail. They would make Election Day a national holiday.

Some are calling for abolition of the Electoral College and the direct election of the president. Also under discussion is the elimination of the winner-take-all system in favor of proportional representation.

Given Republican control of Congress, these may seem like pie-in-the-sky demands. Yet civil rights workers of 1965 also faced long odds. They didn’t surrender and won a great victory. Likewise, today’s movement for equality and democratic rights is unlikely to surrender.

Tim Wheeler is the PWW’s national political correspondent, (greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com)

(see related statements below by U.S. Representatives)

Why we are here

By Rep. John Conyers

We are here today, not as partisans for one presidential candidate or another, but because we want to do our duty under the Constitution to protect our democracy. We are here because of the inner-city voter in Franklin County, who waited 10 hours in the pouring rain, while suburban voters in the same county had no wait because election officials decided to reallocate voting machines from Columbus to the suburbs.

We are here because of the Hispanic voter in Hamilton County who was directed to the wrong voting table, and had their ballot thrown out because of a decision by the secretary of state to throw out ballots cast at the right polling place but the wrong precinct.

We are here because of the elderly voter in Lucas County who requested an absentee ballot that never showed up and was refused a provisional ballot because of another partisan decision by the secretary of state.

We are here because of the new voter in Delaware County, whose registration form was thrown out because it did not meet the paper weight requirements of the same secretary of state.

We are here because of the African American voter in Summit County, who was targeted with an unlawful voting challenge because of her race and because she refused to answer a certified letter from the chairman of the Republican Party.

Most of all we are here because not a single election official in Ohio has given us any explanation for the massive and widespread irregularities in that state: No explanation for the machines in Mahoning County that recorded Kerry votes for Bush — No explanation for the improper purging in Cuyahoga County — No explanation for the lock down in Warren County —No explanation for the 99 percent voter turnout in Miami County — No explanation for the machine tampering in Hocking County.

The debate we have today will not change the outcome of November’s election. We know that. But out of today’s debate, I hope this Congress will respond to our challenge:

• A challenge to hold true bipartisan hearings to get to the bottom of what went wrong in Ohio and around the nation on election day.

• A challenge to show the same concern about voter disenfranchisement in this country that we show in Afghanistan, and the Ukraine, and Iraq.

• A challenge to enact real election reform; that gives all citizens the right to a provisional ballot; that gives all voters a verifiable paper trail; and that bans election officials from serving as campaign chairs.

The thing we should never fear in Congress is a debate, and the thing we should never fear in a democracy is the voters. I hope that today we have a fair debate and four years from now, we have an election all our citizens can be proud of.

Protect the will of the people

By Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones

While some have called our cause foolish, I can assure you that my parents, Mary and Andrew Tubbs, did not raise any fools. And as a lawyer, former judge and prosecutor, I am duty bound to follow the law and apply the law to the facts as I find them.

It is on behalf of those millions of Americans who believe in and value our democratic process and the right to vote that I put forth this objection today. If they are willing stand at the polls for countless hours in the rain as many did in Ohio, then I can surely stand up for them here in the halls of Congress.

This objection does not have at its root the hope or even the hint of overturning or challenging the victory of the president; but it is a necessary, timely and appropriate opportunity to review and remedy the most precious process in our democracy.

I raise this objection neither to put the nation in the turmoil of a proposed overturned election nor to provide cannon fodder or partisan demagoguery for my fellow Republican members of Congress.

I raise this objection because I am convinced that we as a body must conduct a formal and legitimate debate about election irregularities. I raise this objection to debate the process and protect the integrity of the true will of the people.

Proud to file this objection

By Sen. Barbara Boxer

Our democracy is the centerpiece of who we are as a nation. And it is the fondest hope of all Americans that we can help bring democracy to every corner of the world.

As we try to do that, and as we are shedding the blood of our military to this end, we must realize that we lose so much credibility when our own electoral system needs so much improvement.

Yet, in the past four years, this Congress has not done everything it should to give confidence to all of our people their votes matter.

After passing the Help America Vote Act, nothing more was done.

* * * * * *

Before I close, I want to thank my colleague from the House, Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones. Her letter to me asking for my intervention was substantive and compelling.

As I wrote to her, I was particularly moved by her point that it is virtually impossible to get official House consideration of the whole issue of election reform, including these irregularities. … I am proud to stand with her in filing this objection.


CONTRIBUTOR

Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler estimates he has written 10,000 news reports, exposes, op-eds, and commentaries in his half century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper. He lives with his wife Joyce in Sequim, Wash. His new book, “News From Rain Shadow Country,” is a selection of writings covering his childhood and youth growing up on a dairy farm near Sequim in the 1950s and his retirement on the family farm in recent years. Tim’s much anticipated complete memoirs will be out later in 2017.

Comments

comments