The widespread use of voter suppression laws in the 2012 national elections has created a national awareness among the electorate that it is time to review and revise the conduct of national elections in order to guarantee the equal right of every voter to cast a ballot.
The efforts to further suppress voting rights continues now and are even more vicious and dangerous. These efforts have a single purpose: that is the control of all three branches of government by a right wing minority. It is imperative that a new universal federal election law and process be put into place to guarantee free and fair elections, one person, one vote.
The history of the right to vote in our country is a history of struggle. Each struggle to expand the right to vote has laid the basis for new democratic electoral advances. These struggles and gains have been hard fought, cost many lives and much bloodshed - from the right of African American men to vote, for women's suffrage, for the end of the poll tax, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the continuing struggles for real universal suffrage. This includes battles today.
All elections today, local, state and federal are governed and regulated by each individual state with a few exceptions where the Department of Justice through the Voter Rights Act oversees the elections. Even this modest federal control is being challenged currently. The oral arguments were heard by the Supreme Court on Feb. 27, 2013. What is at stake is the review of proposed new voter laws in certain states to ensure discrimination is not taking place.
The hostility of the right wing members of the Court was most viciously expressed by Justice Antonin Scalia who said that we are heading for the "perpetuation of racial entitlement." Voting is a fundamental constitutional right, not an entitlement. It applies equally to all Americans and that is what Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act guarantees.
Slowly, but surely there is a change in people's understanding of the undemocratic character of our electoral laws. The 2000 presidential elections brought about a new consciousness of the undemocratic nature of electing the president through the electoral college system, that it is a fundamental denial of one person one vote. Although Al Gore clearly won the popular vote, with the help of the Supreme Court, George W. Bush was given the electoral college votes from Florida and thereby the majority of electoral votes nationally and was declared president.
In 2008, the first African American, Barack Obama was elected president of the United States. The ultra right could not countenance the idea that an African American should be president. This defied and flew in the face of their racist and elitist view of life and they determined to make him a one-term president.
They set into motion a national voter suppression campaign. It had two main aspects. First was the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court which ruled that corporations could anonymously spend unlimited amounts of money to wage propaganda campaigns in elections. They spent hundreds of millions of dollars in a lying campaign against President Obama.
The second aspect of the campaign was the unfolding of dozens of new laws and regulations designed to prevent millions of people from voting and thus tip the election toward the Republicans. Each and everyone of these voter suppression measures was aimed at limiting the ability of African American, Latinos, youth and seniors to vote. And they made no bones about it. The most notorious statement was by the Pennsylvania Senate President who declared "Done" in relation to defeating Obama.
Among the dirty trick suppression measures were
- Voter ID - almost impossible for millions to get
- Not enough voter machines and polling places causing hours long lines
- Limitations on early voting
- Purging of voter lists
- Billboards, mailings, websites giving wrong information on voting dates and times
This anti-democratic, un-American voter suppression campaign has brought a wave of disgust and anger among a majority of the American people. It is seen as a method of stealing elections and defying the will of the people. It is an attempt to install government by the few over the many.
Millions of people were prepared to overcome every suppressing obstacle placed in their way and thus we saw an outpouring of voters and lines that lasted for hours.
Despite the resounding defeat of the ultra right, the voter suppression attempts continue. The biggest threat right now is the attempted manipulation of the electoral college. The ultra right is trying to piecemeal change to the electoral college whereby only Republicans will get elected president.
While there needs to be a national discussion on the necessity of election of the president by popular vote, as long as there is an electoral college, it must remain in tact until it is eliminated. To change it in some states, but not others, to base it on gerrymandered congressional districts will lead to permanent minority rule. That is the new tactic. As New York University Professor Robert Shrum said: They want to "institutionalize a system where the losers win."
Another new challenge to fair elections is a case which will come before the Supreme Court this session - McCutcheon v. FEC (Federal Elections Commission). In many ways this is the companion to Citizens United. It is a challenge to campaign contribution limits and would lead to a few wealthy individuals having even more influence in our political process.
(As incredible as it may seem, a bill was introduced into the Montana state legislature that would give the right to corporations to vote in municipal elections. The ultra right will stop at nothing to steal elections.)
The anger at the concerted effort to steal elections has led to organizations, individuals. newspapers calling for election law reform. There are a number of bills and proposed bills which aim to stop voter suppression. For example, there are bills that deal with the question of long lines, of early voting periods, same day registration, no-excuse absentee voting.
Of particular importance is the Voter Empowerment Act of 2013 - HR12 introduced by John Lewis and others with a Senate companion bill introduced by Kirsten Gillibrand.
It is important that Attorney General Eric Holder on Dec.12, 2012 spoke about the need for portable voter registration.
There are many bills that deal with specific aspects of the fundamental right to vote. What is needed is a comprehensive, national, uniform election law for federal elections which would include:
- National, portable voter registration with a national voter ID
- Same day registration
- Early voting hours and days
- Voting by mail
- Paper trail voting machines
- Sufficient polling places so as to guarantee no long lines waiting to vote
- Restoring voting rights for people who have paid their debt to society
The widespread anger against electoral piracy must be channeled and organized into a fighting movement to win all of these measures. Some will be won in separate bills but ultimately all need to be passed.
As AFL-CIO president, Richard Trumka said: "A strong and growing grassroots democratic movement needs to come together to push back against the next wave of state level attack on the right to vote."
Photo: Ho John Lee // CC 2.0