VOTING RIGHTS

The essence, and entire premise of democracy in this country is, majority rules. Yes, we have a constitution that spells forth certain basic rights that cannot be denied by a majority of the people. Such as freedom of speech and press, or the right to due process if criminally accused. Of course, these basic human rights have often been infringed on from time to time. It’s all in the way the constitution is interpreted. But outside the enumerated basic rights that are constitutionally mandated, the machinery of government functions on the basis of majority rule. And that rule is determined through the process of voting. We go to the polls and our vote establishes who goes to Congress or sits in the Oval Office. Majority voters determine who will be handed the responsibilities to make the government function or dysfunction, as the case may be. (These days, it’s primarily dysfunction.) But what if that vote can be illegally manipulated or otherwise distorted so, in essence, it doesn’t represent the will of the people. Then the basic political foundations of democracy in this country are made a mockery of. Unfortunately, such has been the case for too many times throughout our history.

All this came to mind because of a current case being presented before the Supreme Court, relating to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Certain southern states are suing to have parts of this Act overturned. First a little background. After slavery ended through Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and then the 13th Amendment, virtually all southern states established a series of racist Jim Crow laws. These laws established strict segregation laws between whites and blacks in all public venues, including public schools for children. In addition, since most southern states had large black populations, the white establishment wanted to assure that blacks were denied any influence at the polls when voting for political candidates. So most southern states established the poll tax, whereby it would cost an individual money if he wanted to vote. (Women, at that time in history, had no voting rights.) The poll tax could be as small as $10-$25, or perhaps as much as $50-$100, but it didn’t matter. Most blacks, especially in the south, were dirt poor at the time. So given the choice for a poor black laborer of paying for the right to vote or using that money to put food on the table for his family, the decision was easy. Besides, the white establishment would always find a way to rig the election, with or without black voting. Such was the thinking and reality in those days.

Thus, 150 years of slavery in this country was followed by another 100 years of semi-slavery, known as Jim Crowism. Which, by the way, also existed in many parts of the north. Things finally came to a head in the early 1960s with the great civil rights marches and demonstrations, often led by Martin Luther King. In 1965, under the leadership of Lyndon Johnson, Congress, with strong bi-partisan support, passed the Voting Rights Act which banned the existence of poll taxes, or any other form of discrimination, concerning the right to vote. (In those days, there were many in the Republican Party that actually worked for the good of the people, instead of catering to looney-tunes, crackpot, fringe elements.) In any event, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 turned out to be one of the most successful pieces of legislation in our history. Almost immediately after passage, large numbers of black voters were added to the enrollment columns. Today, black voter enrollment is on a par, or even exceeds white registration throughout the south.

Part of the 1965 Act requires southern and even a few northern states to obtain prior approval of the Dept. of Justice for any changes they seek to make in voting procedures. Hence, southern states are suing the federal government to have these provisions declared unconstitutional. They argue that the days of the poll tax, or any other form of racial bias in voting, has long been swept away. They point to black state legislators, and Congressional representatives that have been elected throughout the south. Which is all very true. So the early indication is that the Supreme Court will buy their arguments and rule in their favor. But that doesn’t mean that unscrupulous individuals throughout the entire country are not plotting and scheming to manipulate the voting process for their partisan purposes. And unfortunately, most of this scheming is taking place under Republican auspices.

Florida is a good example in the election we just held this past November. Republican Governor Rick Scott and his Republican State Secretary, went on a frenzied binge in the weeks before the election, to remove registered voters from the eligibility rolls, on the basis that these people were really not citizens of Florida. Tens of thousands of eligible voters were thus denied access to the voting booth. The trouble is, that virtually all those removed were poor, or low -income individuals that normally vote Democratic. Despite this blatant manipulation, Obama carried Florida by a narrow margin, which is a minor miracle in itself. Another attempt to put a damper on Democratic turnout in upcoming elections, are laws requiring picture ID that have been passed in many states that the GOP controls. Millions of people don’t drive and, thus, have no driver’s license. Thus no voter ID. (My driver’s license is the only picture ID that I own.) And, of course, those without driver’s licenses tend to be on the low-end of the economic totem pole, and, again, more likely to vote Democratic. A good example is Indiana which Obama carried in 2008. Then a Republican Governor working with a Republican legislature passed a picture ID requirement for voter eligibility. And Obama then lost this state in 2012.

Of course, the biggest fiasco to the election process, and which makes a mockery of the entire concept of democracy in this country is the Electoral College. This body of unknown individuals determine who will be declared the presidential winner in each race. As Al Gore found out in the election of 2000 when he won the popular vote but was still denied the presidency. It came down to several hundred votes in, again, the state of Florida. A Republican Secretary of State refused to allow the recount of thousands of disputed votes which could have swung the election to the Democrat. By a vote of 5 to 4, the Supreme Court agreed with her and Al Gore was left to whistle dixie.

Now, GOP strategists are plotting to enact new laws, especially in the so-called swing states, that will award electoral votes on the basis of county election results. Since most counties in this country consist of thinly populated small towns, and always vote Republican, it would give the GOP a lock on the White House. Democrats win by carrying the much fewer heavily populated counties that usually contain major cities. If Republicans can pull this one off, it will truly destroy any semblance of a democratic process in this country. Even without a poll tax.

As I’ve said previously, a monarchy form of government is beginning to look better all the time.

 

 

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