Posts Tagged With: voting rights

BALLOT ABSURDITIES

When the Civil War ended ended 150 years ago, President Lincoln managed, mainly through bribery and intimidation, to get the 13th amendment passed which formerly ended the practice of slavery. Shortly after Lincoln’s assassination, the 14th amendment was also passed which gave former slaves full citizenship including the right to vote. Since there were heavy black populations in the deep South, especially in states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, the fear among whites was that blacks voting in large numbers, could team up with enough whites that might have had a sliver of conscience, to elect candidates that actually possessed some human decency. Well, you certainly couldn’t let that happen. So the Southern white majority, along with all the segregation and Jim Crow laws, enacted legislation to assure that blacks would be unable to vote in any significant numbers.

First of all, most freed slaves possessed little if any education, or job skills, other than picking cotton. So many remained on the plantation and continued to pick cotton, for little more than room and board under the most squalid of conditions. If any of them should have been so foolhardy as to actually try to exercise their right to vote, the plantation owner made it very clear how he wanted the election results to turn out. If his guy wasn’t elected, these former slaves would likely loose the pathetic jobs they were forced to cling to. And, as if that weren’t enough, Southern states put into practice further roadblocks to prevent black turnouts at the voting booths. Laws that came to known as “poll taxes” were enacted in virtually every Southern state. In other words, one had to pay a tax for the Constitutional right to vote.

Now these poll taxes were usually set at a fairly nominal amount such as $10 so as not to discourage too many whites from voting. But $10 was a heap of lettuce to the average black family mired in poverty. So these poll taxes usually achieved their goal of minimizing the black turnout at the voting booth. But just to make sure, most Southern states also enacted literacy laws which required newly freed slaves to take rather difficult written tests on U.S. history and the Constitution, to prove that they were literate enough to cast a ballot. Tests that most high-school and a fair number of college students would likely fail today. As a result, all these barriers achieved their aim of greatly discouraging blacks from voting; resulting in totally racist Senators and Congressmen that could be counted on to always vote for Jim Crow segregation legislation, getting elected, generation-after-generation.

Now, fast forward to a century later, to when President Lyndon Johnson pushed through the civil rights legislation of 1964. This act abolished all poll taxes and literacy tests, as well as any other hinderances that might have existed when any U.S. citizen seeks to exercise his or her right to vote. For the first time, minorities and poor people in general started voting in large numbers, and the age of racist demagogues being elected to national office was over. The 1964 voting rights act also required that Southern states remain under special scrutiny by the U.S. Attorney General, to assure there wasn’t further hanky-panky going on to interfere with an individual’s rights at the voting booth. Interestingly, the Supreme Court has just struck that provision in the law, in the mistaken belief that racism is no longer a factor in national elections. In any event-“who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. Only The Shadow knows.” (Sorry, those were the opening lines from a radio show in the 1940s. I just couldn’t resist.)

Now, 50 years after that historic civil rights legislation, it doesn’t take The Shadow to know that huge amounts of evil lurks in the hearts of men. Especially when it comes to finding ways to circumvent existing voting rights legislation. Thus, most Southern and many Mid-Western states, i.e. the red states, have now passed what are called voter ID laws. These laws require that before one can cast a ballot, they are required to produce valid photo identification. I don’t know about others, but the only picture ID I have in my wallet is my drivers license. If I didn’t drive anymore, and let my license lapse, would that mean that I could no longer vote? That’s exactly what it would come down to. In other words, it’s a method by which Republican states can keep those most likely to vote Democratic off the voter rolls.

Who is most likely not to have picture ID in their possession. First, it’s the old and/or infirm that cannot drive because of age or illness. If they don’t drive, what other picture ID would be in their possession. Their gym membership cards? Also, there are many people in this country that don’t have a drivers license simply because ¬†they’re too poor to own a car. No car, no license. I’m pretty safe in saying ¬†that these same people also fail to possess passports. So, in the end, it’s the poor, the sick, and the elderly that are being kicked off voter registration lists, and by the hundreds of thousands. The very groups that are most likely to vote for Democratic candidates. A rather simple but effective way to flush all the good intentions of voting rights legislation down the sewer. In the 2012, the Republican Governor and Secretary of State in Florida, arbitrarily booted several hundred thousand registered voters off the rolls about a month or two before the election. That Obama was still able to carry the state, albeit by a very narrow margin, is like the 8th wonder of the world.

In any event, the voting process in this country has been so thoroughly corrupted by big money, campaign donations, and voter ID requirements that its become a sick joke. I wrote previously (for those interested) about the far right-wing Koch brothers who possess a $100 billion in assets between the two of them, and how they plan to influence the upcoming 2014 elections. About how they, along with their other billionaire buddies, plan to spend whatever it takes to elect a GOP dominated Congress, come this November. But not to worry. I’m sure the Koch brothers will give us the best politicians that money can buy.

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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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