Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Voting Rights Act: why Republicans don’t want you to vote!

The Voting Rights Act was originally passed in 1965 under the leadership of President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Everett Dirksen-D. As former Senator Bob Dole points out in his Op-Ed piece in the August 6, 2005 Washington Post, a higher percentage of Republicans in both the House and Senate supported passage of the bill.

You can read Bob Dole’s Op-Ed here.

The Act was a monumental piece of legislation that followed on the heals of the Civil Rights Act. The U.S. Justice Department touts the Voting Rights Act as the most successful piece of civil rights legislation in the history of our country. It was enacted in an effort to “codify and effectuate” into law the tenets of the 15th Amendment (follow this link to read the 15th Amendment). In addition, the Act had several special provisions to deal with the challenges faced by African-Americans and barriers to voting. One provision struck down the literacy requirement for voting that was used to keep blacks from voting in the Jim Crow south and many counties in the north. These municipalities were further required to seek the approval of a three judge panel of the federal courts in the D.C. circuit or the Attorney General of the United States before they changed their voting laws. Further, the Attorney General could send agents to these municipalities to ensure that eligible people were not being denied the right to vote.

This Act was subsequently renewed in 1970, 1975 and 1982. Along the way it was modified to also ensure that voting materials are available in many other languages to aid foreign born American citizens who do not speak English sufficiently to feel comfortable voting in the majority language. Upon reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 1982, President Reagan stated clearly and perfectly that the right to vote is "the crown jewel of American liberties" reaffirming the need to protect this right in the clearest terms possible.

The Act is set to sunset again in 2007 and there are already efforts being made to change key provisions. This weekend there was a march in Atlanta, Georgia to build support for the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. The march was led by Representative John Lewis, NAACP President Bruce Gordon, and Jesse Jackson. They are fighting to protect two provisions in general and the entire Act as a whole. In particular they want to ensure that multilingual voting materials remain available to for all. In addition they want to maintain Federal oversight of key states.

We are not so far removed from Florida in 2000 when thousands of black voters in Brower County were denied the right to vote. We are not so far removed from Ohio in 2004 when thousands of black voters in and around Cleveland found it enormously difficult to cast their vote due to incredibly long lines and understaffed polling places, problems that did not exist in majority white neighborhoods.

If all that was not bad enough, now Conservatives want to do away with many key provisions of the Voting Rights Act. They claim that singling out several southern states for federal oversight is inherently unfair, and you know what? I agree. I would change the Act to give the federal government the power of oversight of every square inch of the United States from Alaska to Maine and Ohio to Florida.

Racism is still a problem in this country, and despite all its lip-service to brotherly love and welcoming acceptance, it is still a fact that when blacks vote, Democrats win. When blacks are disenfranchised Republicans win. In Florida there was the barely competent Republican Secretary of State Catherine Harris (a key official in the Florida Bush apparatus) doing the bidding to the candidate’s brother, Governor Jeb Bush. In Ohio, Secretary J. Kenneth Blackwell, himself an African American, failed to protect the voting rights of minority and lower class voters.

Bob Dole says in his Op-Ed piece that the GOP is attempting to attract minorities to the Republican Party with the promise that they offer a different approach to civil rights. If their approach to voting rights is any indication, I believe that the GOP has not only not made progress since 1965 but has taken enormous steps backwards. This is in part due to the fact that the Republican Party inherited many of the southern Democrats that opposed the act in the first place. I call them Dixiecrats and if you need any proof you need look no further than former Georgia Senator Zell Miller who endorsed President Bush in 2004 and spoke at the Republican Convention in New York City. He is a man who claims that the Democrats failed to hold true to the ideals of JFK, but clearly Zell in his delusional mind failed to see that the Party had begun changing under FDR and continued on through President Johnson and up until the present. Many of the Dixiecrats can look back on their affiliation with the Democratic Party as a family tradition, which by the time they reached the civil rights movement was clearly no longer a fit.

Republican talk about inclusion and tolerance and I believe that a majority of Republicans are well meaning, but unfortunately the Party allows itself to be led by the most ideological in its midst. The right-wing of the GOP is not inclusive, they are not tolerant, and they are not interested in making the situation of minorities better in this country. They are hateful. The preach hate in the form Christianity. It is a philosophy that could not be more at odds with the core message of Christ which was love and acceptance.

Until the majority of the GOP which are moderate step up and remove this element from their Party they will continue to be a racist Party that does not care about equality and has no interest in helping level the playing field in this country.

They approach education reform by saying that it is wrong to expect less from children in minority neighborhoods so they pass reforms called “No Child Left Behind” and then fail to fund it appropriately. It is not wrong to expect better performance from minority students in poor neighborhoods, it is wrong to expect higher performance when you are not willing to commit the resources to make higher performance a reality.

Minorities are not blind, they are not stupid and they will never sign on with a Party that tries to spin them into joining using rhetoric and nothing else. There is no substance behind the words that the Republicans preach.

1 comment:

Eric the Papa said...

I agree, but the Constitution gives localities responsibility for running elections. I guess that can overcome. There are currently suggestions that elections be held on Saturday AND Sunday to make voting easier. We also need to regulate ballots to avoid electronic (and traditional) cheating.
Your take on the southern Democrats -- Dixiecrats -- is correct. What is puzzling is the disappearance of moderate or even progressive Republicans.