Fighting voter suppression takes coordination and commitment

Goldstone’s most recent book is “Because of Race: The Supreme Court, White Supremacy, and the Ravaging of African-American Voting Rights.”

In a previous column, I wrote that despite new state laws aimed at suppressing voter turnout and the likelihood of the Supreme Court dancing to all but the most egregious abuses, it has become nearly impossible to prevent an American motivated, determined, educated in the process, both of registering to vote and then casting a legitimate ballot.

Traditional means of voter suppression, such as poll taxes, literacy tests and grandfather clauses, are prohibited; newer methods — enhanced identification requirements, for example — can make voting extremely cumbersome, but don’t prevent it. Yet many Americans, no matter how driven and determined, will need support to navigate the increasingly Byzantine environment created by those who would forgo even the veneer of democracy to maintain minority power.

Minority rule was entrenched in the Constitution with two senators per state and Electoral College, and has been the norm for virtually all of American history. But since its founding, the United States has moved slowly and hesitantly toward inclusion, breaking down barriers to voting such as race, gender and property. Now, however, for the first time in more than two centuries, there is a serious effort to reverse this progress.

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The voting process has three phases – registering, casting ballots and verifying that they are correctly counted and recorded – and each has its own challenges. To ensure that everyone who intends to vote can remain registered, the first step is to identify those whose registration may be at risk due to changes in state law, a disproportionately aged and black or brown. For these Americans, it is critical that they have proper identification, a valid current address, signatures that match voter rolls, and, if they haven’t voted recently, proper re-registration. The Conservatives are counting on many of these voters, especially the elderly, ignoring changes to the law that could disenfranchise them.

There are many examples of how those who believe in honest elections can fight back. Groups such as Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight Action have succeeded in not only locating potentially disenfranchised voters, but also in ensuring that their right to vote will not be disenfranchised. Grassroots organizations with similar goals exist across the country, as do motivated religious leaders, but they need money and resources to succeed. Some form of national coordination for fundraising, with local groups deciding which strategy would work for them, would be optimal, but local groups can achieve a lot by simply organizing within their communities.

The courts will be of little help. While some justices may try to overturn some of the more transparent attempts to limit voter registration, the Supreme Court has shown little willingness to infringe on states’ right to set their own voting rules. , even though they appear to be in clear violation of the 14th and 15th Amendments.

For the second step of the process (voting) and the third (making sure those ballots are counted correctly), many of the battles will be be in court. While the first wave of new laws aimed to prevent registration, more recent efforts, such as those in Texas and Georgia, aim to limit voter turnout by closing polling places, restricting mail-in or mail-in voting. correspondence, or by reducing the number of days in which voters can vote. These laws target urban centers and particularly neighborhoods with a high proportion of black residents.

With limited options, voting may well involve long waits in long queues moving at icy speed. Since Election Day is not a holiday in many states, conservatives hope that many African Americans will not be able or willing to risk their jobs by taking an entire day off to vote. Community and religious leaders should therefore pressure local businesses to make Election Day a paid holiday, or at least stagger working hours so employees have enough time to wait in line. Early voting, though restricted, will still exist, so advocates should encourage as much as possible to vote before Election Day. Those who need mail-in ballots should be informed of the updated rules for requesting them. Finally, voting lines must be monitored to ensure that those waiting to vote are not subject to intimidation, whether by self-proclaimed “patriots”, such as the Proud Boys, or by antagonistic election officials. .

When abuses are found, lawyers should be available to seek injunctions immediately. Courts can be more helpful here, as most jurisdictions contain at least some judges who take a dim view of voter intimidation. The Supreme Court, less likely to rule on behalf of disenfranchised voters, will be unlikely to get involved in disputes over state jurisdiction.

Many of these measures have been taken in the past and are planned for the future, but an ad hoc and sloppy approach will not be fully effective against a ruthless and implacable enemy. Again, what is needed is a national effort, either under the umbrella of a political party or under the umbrella of groups such as Fair Fight, to recruit, coordinate and fundraise for this which will require many volunteers and a lot of money. Community groups, religious leaders, local authorities and even businesses and corporations can and should play a role.

Once the votes were cast, the Conservatives embarked on a concerted campaign to make their counting a subjective rather than objective exercise. While the threat of political hacks or right-wing ideologues simply nullifying an actual vote and substituting their own outcome is real, the total failure in court of pro-Trump lawsuits in 2020 would indicate that here, at least, even the conservatives on the Supreme Court drew the line. Moreover, in states that have allowed outsiders to observe the vote counting process, pro-democracy forces can be just as aggressive as their opponents.

Ultimately, it will take more than a village to ensure fair elections – it will take an army. Americans need to realize that democracy has to be earned, and probably earned more than once. It is sad that elections in the United States resemble those of third world countries trying to implement democracy after generations of dictatorship, but if the majority finally wants to have its voice heard in our government, this comparison is perhaps more appropriate than most Americans would like to believe.

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