Protecting “this most basic human right”

As our country begins the process of electing our next president, and the members of the 115th Congress, the right to vote is still not settled. It is important to remember that protecting the franchise is the only way to insure that citizen’s voices are heard and that we have a say in electing our representatives.

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On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson, Democrat, signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Handing the Pen to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The new law of the land:

SEC. 2. No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.

President Johnson introduced his outline for a voting rights act to Congress on March 15, 1965 following violence in Selma Alabama as protesters marched for voting rights.

March 1965 – Selma

His speech laid out a plan for protecting voting rights:

I speak tonight for the dignity of man and the destiny of Democracy. I urge every member of both parties, Americans of all religions and of all colors, from every section of this country, to join me in that cause.

At times, history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom. So it was at Lexington and Concord. So it was a century ago at Appomattox. So it was last week in Selma, Alabama. There, long suffering men and women peacefully protested the denial of their rights as Americans. Many of them were brutally assaulted. One good man-a man of God-was killed.

He reminded us of our founding documents and their words:

   This was the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose.

The great phrases of that purpose still sound in every American heart, North and South: “All men are created equal.” “Government by consent of the governed.” “Give me liberty or give me death.” And those are not just clever words, and those are not just empty theories. In their name Americans have fought and died for two centuries and tonight around the world they stand there as guardians of our liberty risking their lives. Those words are promised to every citizen that he shall share in the dignity of man. This dignity cannot be found in a man’s possessions. It cannot be found in his power or in his position. It really rests on his right to be treated as a man equal in opportunity to all others. It says that he shall share in freedom. He shall choose his leaders, educate his children, provide for his family according to his ability and his merits as a human being.

To apply any other test, to deny a man his hopes because of his color or race or his religion or the place of his birth is not only to do injustice, it is to deny Americans and to dishonor the dead who gave their lives for American freedom. Our fathers believed that if this noble view of the rights of man was to flourish it must be rooted in democracy. This most basic right of all was the right to choose your own leaders. The history of this country in large measure is the history of expansion of the right to all of our people.

President Johnson was known as a blunt man. And nothing can be blunter than this:

   Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument: every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to insure that right.

To ensure that right, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed by a Democratic Congress and signed into law by a Democratic President.

This is a Big Huge Deal

President Johnson speaking on August 6, 1965 at the signing:

Stirring words to describe a singular moment in history:

Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield. Yet to seize the meaning of this day, we must recall darker times.

Three and a half centuries ago the first Negroes arrived at Jamestown. They did not arrive in brave ships in search of a home for freedom. They did not mingle fear and joy, in expectation that in this New World anything would be possible to a man strong enough to reach for it.

They came in darkness and they came in chains.

And today we strike away the last major shackle of those fierce and ancient bonds. Today the Negro story and the American story fuse and blend.

There were those who said this is an old injustice, and there is no need to hurry. But 95 years have passed since the 15th amendment gave all Negroes the right to vote.

And the time for waiting is gone.

There were those who said smaller and more gradual measures should be tried. But they had been tried. For years and years they had been tried, and tried, and tried, and they had failed, and failed, and failed.

And the time for failure is gone.

There were those who said that this is a many-sided and very complex problem. But however viewed, the denial of the right to vote is still a deadly wrong.

And the time for injustice has gone.

Thus, this is a victory for the freedom of the American Negro. But it is also a victory for the freedom of the American Nation. And every family across this great, entire, searching land will live stronger in liberty, will live more splendid in expectation, and will be prouder to be American because of the act that you have passed that I will sign today.

In 2012, the Obama Justice Department sued to stop voter id laws and voter purging tactics in states controlled by Republicans:

As conservatives threaten the voting rights of millions of Americans with new voter ID laws, Attorney General Eric Holder shot back on Tuesday, calling the laws an unconstitutional “poll tax.”

During a speech to the national NAACP Convention, Holder denounced the fact that a number of states are beginning to require voters to present particular forms of photo identification or be turned away from the polls. “Under proposed voter ID laws, many would struggle to pay for IDs needed to vote. We call this a poll tax,” Holder declared to loud applause.

In June, 2013, the conservative majority on the Roberts Court declared that there is no more institutional racism and declared Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the pre-clearance provision, to be unconstitutional.

Attorney General Eric Holder:

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in the case of Shelby County v. Holder – and invalidated an essential part of the Voting Rights Act, a cornerstone of American civil rights law.

Like many others across the country, I am deeply disappointed with the Court’s decision in this matter.  This decision represents a serious setback for voting rights – and has the potential to negatively affect millions of Americans across the country. […]

The Department of Justice will continue to carefully monitor jurisdictions around the country for voting changes that may hamper voting rights.  Let me be very clear:  we will not hesitate to take swift enforcement action – using every legal tool that remains available to us – against any jurisdiction that seeks to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling by hindering eligible citizens’ full and free exercise of the franchise.

Attorney General Holder did not give up and we should not give up. Here is the most important part of his speech:

We know from many decades of long, hard struggle that the best way to defend a right is to go out and exercise it.  […] it is incumbent on all American citizens to stand up for their rights by registering to vote, going to the ballot box, exercising that most fundamental of  rights, and voting for their preferred candidates of any party.

Contact your representatives in Congress and demand that they protect the right to vote. And if they don’t, exercise your right to vote and replace them with people who will protect  “this most basic human right”.

(A version of this first appeared as part of a series “Why I Vote For Democrats” published during the 2012 election year)

  13 comments for “Protecting “this most basic human right”

  1. JanF
    February 10, 2016 at 6:21 am

    When Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) was asked about the bipartisan legislation that would restore power to the Voting Rights Act, he shrugged his shoulders:

    Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told black lawmakers Wednesday that he supports new voting rights protections they’ve championed, but said he won’t bypass a committee chairman to move legislation, according to a Democrat who attended the gathering.

    “He said it right in front of everybody — he said he supports the [Jim] Sensenbrenner bill,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), said after Ryan met with the group on Capitol Hill.

    “So somebody was saying, ‘Well, why don’t you go tell your committee chair to do it?’ ” Cleaver added. “And he said, … ‘Look, I can’t do that.’ ”

    Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a former chairman of the Judiciary panel, has sponsored bipartisan legislation to update the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in response to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that gutted a central provision of the 1965 law.

    But Sensenbrenner’s proposal does not have the backing of the current Judiciary chairman, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who maintains the Supreme Court left ample protections in the VRA, thereby making congressional action unnecessary.

    Republican priorities are to make it more difficult to vote, not easier to vote, because their base is shrinking and they need to shrink the franchise to retain power. And that is reflected in the actions of their leadership.

    It is difficult to drain the swamp when the alligators have chewed holes in the hoses. But we need to persevere because when we vote – all of us – we win.

    • February 10, 2016 at 5:04 pm

      The more I look back and read about LBJ, the more I begin to think he was one of our greatest presidents.

      It grieves me how all the rights we thought we’d won are being eroded.

      My Circle Sister says the pendulum swings back and forth, and now it’s swinging back. And I tell her, that’s no comfort to the people who are living through it.

      • JanF
        February 11, 2016 at 6:26 am

        I think the part that is difficult is that we don’t know how wide the pendulum swing is (or was). Did we just start back, are we halfway there, how long until we get to the positive side? Right now it feels awful for those caught up in the damage done by the 2010 election, in the states and nationally. Voting laws are managed by state governments which is a terrible way to run a country, especially when the states have shown themselves to be bad actors over and over and over again. Heck, some of them seceded and wanted to form their own country! And they are in charge of deciding who can vote???

        There needs to be national voting laws governing national elections and it needs to include felon re-enfranchising, automatic registration of 18 year olds, no-excuse-needed absentee voting, and early voting days that include the weekend before election day. Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday.

        Of course the Republicans would never agree to this so we have to wait until either the courts step in to fix the gerrymanders or the gerrymanders start leaking. Unfortunately, that may take a generation.

  2. Denise Velez
    February 10, 2016 at 6:45 am

    Voting rights is at the top of my list. Without them – we can’t change anything else.

  3. Happy inVT
    February 10, 2016 at 9:35 am

    It says something that it is easier to buy a gun than it is to register or to cast a vote. That something is not good. That is one area absent on the Dem side of the debates (among other things).

    • JanF
      February 10, 2016 at 10:42 am

      The Democrats also aren’t talking about reproductive rights (I saw PP and NARAL complaining about that on Twitter).

      Both of our candidates need to spend as much time talking about voting rights as they do about Wall Street. I am not as afraid of Goldman Sachs as I am of the Koch brothers’ ALEC legislation which will make it impossible for us to ever pass meaningful legislation at the state level. Once you lose the right to vote, it is game over.

  4. JanF
    February 10, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    Meanwhile in Virginia:

    Attorneys for the state of Virginia are trying to prevent any testimony about the state’s history of racism from being heard in an upcoming trial over Virginia’s strict voter ID law, arguing that the past is “not relevant” to the case.

    In a motion filed Monday, Virginia’s State Board of Election told a federal judge that no witness should be allowed to mention any “evidence of Virginia’s history of racial discrimination” during the trial. The motion specifically took issue with events that took place before 1965, when a federal law prohibiting racial discrimination in voting was passed.

    “No one denies Virginia’s troubling history of racial discrimination nor that Virginia was once part of the Confederacy,” the motion reads. “However, Virginia’s history as a former Confederate state is simply not relevant to the issue this Court is asked to decide.”

    They are claiming that the Roberts Court’s ruling in Shelby County v Holder amounted to a Jubilee where no past discrimination could ever be looked at or even referred to ever again.

    I hope the judge rejects that.

    • February 10, 2016 at 5:07 pm

      Fer gawd’s sake!

      I’ve lived in Virginia for half a century and mostly like it—after all, we elected the nation’s first African-American governor—but it sucks living here when we’ve got a gerrymandered, all-Rethug lege.

  5. JanF
    February 10, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    There will be a lot of new hurdles in place for the 2016 election:

    In 2008 Indiana became the first state to require its citizens to present a photo ID at the polling station. The voter ID push began in earnest, however, after the 2010 midterm elections, when Republicans took control of 26 state legislatures, their highest number since 1952. Almost immediately, statehouses across the country began passing more restrictive voting laws. In the upcoming presidential election residents in nine states will have to prove their identity by producing a photo ID in order to vote.

    […]

    Voting rights advocates say that what voter ID laws are really good at is making it more difficult for a particular subset of Americans to vote; primarily low-income black and Latino citizens — groups who tend to vote for Democratic candidates. […]

    For many of these eligible voters, getting a valid ID is not a simple process. “For one, those without a driver’s license don’t have a car,” said Kathleen Unger, president of VoteRiders, a non-profit group that helps voters obtain valid IDs. “So they’re not able to just drive down to the DMV to get a license.” And while states do offer the option of a free voter ID card Unger says, “In many cases there can be a cost associated with getting a ‘free ID’. Obtaining a copy of a birth certificate or a change of name document not only costs money but requires a trip to another agency. With these laws there are so many people who just won’t vote.”

    And the Republicans win.

    • JanF
      February 11, 2016 at 6:53 am

      From part 2 of the Al Jazeera series on Republican voter suppression tactics:

      Over the last five years, perhaps no elected official in the country has been more aggressive in placing limits on voting and registration than Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

      He authored a provision that created a two-tiered voting system under which some Kansans could cast a ballot for their president but not their governor or any other statewide official. On Jan. 15 a Kansas district court judge struck down the measure, calling it a violation of the state’s constitution and sharply rebuked Kobach, writing, “No such authority exists at all … to encumber the voting process as he has done here.” His proposal requiring Kansans to show proof of citizenship to register to vote and a photo ID to cast a ballot became law in 2011. Within a year, Kobach, a former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, persuaded 14 other mostly Republican states to participate in a voter registration database, Interstate Crosscheck — created, administered and funded by his office — to purge voter rolls of people registered in multiple states. The program’s data analysis, however, has been reported to disproportionately flag legitimate minority voters who simply have first and last names in common. […]

      While Kobach may be one of the most visible proponents of more restrictive voting laws, his work is indicative of a broader strategy by Republicans across the country to make it more difficult to vote by passing legislation in the name of combating voter fraud. Critics of these laws say they are partisan attempts to blunt the power of a changing electorate that includes more African-Americans, Latinos and other minorities — groups that tend to vote Democratic.

      “Moments of extraordinary progress are often followed by moments of extraordinary backlash,” said Ari Berman, a journalist and the author of “Give Us the Vote.” Noting the record number of African-Americans and Latinos who turned out to elect Barack Obama president, he said, “We had in 2008 a moment of extraordinary progress … from the standpoint of civil rights and voting rights. That was followed by an extraordinary backlash. Instead of reaching out to these new constituencies … Republicans in states all across the country decided that they were going to make it harder for them to vote.”

    • JanF
      February 12, 2016 at 10:29 am

      Part 3 of the series: Who’s funding voter suppression?

      In June the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether states will be forced to redraw their electoral maps based only on eligible voters rather than total population, as has been the standard for more than 50 years. A win for the plaintiffs in Evenwel v. Abbott would result in a dramatic shift in electoral power, upending the notion of “one person, one vote”. Densely populated urban areas with high numbers of children, immigrants and the formerly incarcerated would lose representation while rural areas which have smaller populations but a much greater percentage of voting-age, eligible residents stand to see their electoral power increase. […]

      “When you look at this from a political perspective … what it would do is cut out the Latino population” said Kathay Feng, Executive Director of the nonprofit California Common Cause, who cites the high percentage of underage and non-citizens among this demographic. […]

      An examination of funding sources tied to the Evenwel case reveals a web of influential Republican-allied organizations with long-standing support for restrictive voting laws and suppression tactics aimed at discouraging turnout among populations that vote for Democratic candidates. Proponents of these laws argue they are necessary to combat what they say is potentially widespread voter fraud — but only 28 people were convicted of in-person voter fraud between 2000 and 2012, however.

      The driving force behind the Evenwel case is Ed Blum, whose Project on Fair Representation is adept at matching plaintiffs with lawyers in cases designed to end up in the Supreme Court. Another case that Blum has shepherded, which argues against affirmative action admissions policies (Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin), was also heard by the Supreme Court this term.

      Here are the big money, big hate players:

  6. February 10, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    And people wonder why we have low turnout? Why can’t we have elections on weekends, like civilized countries? Who said it always had to be on a Tuesday? Many people employed in hourly wage jobs don’t get paid time off to go vote. I wouldn’t have dared to take off work, even when I did have a professional job to go vote. I made sure I voted either before or after work. One is supposed to have time off for that reason but in real life one often doesn’t.

    We should have mail-in voting, we should have all sorts of things. Believe me, in Australia they take voting seriously. They put voting booths on the beach and in labor/delivery rooms. In Australia people are fined if they don’t vote.

  7. JanF
    February 11, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    Hillary Clinton SuperPAC to protect the vote is forming – “Every Citizen Counts”

    Allies of Hillary Clinton are forming a new $25 million political organization aimed at expanding voter protection efforts and driving turnout and registration among Latino and black voters essential to her Democratic presidential campaign. […]

    The non-partisan organization will focus on legislation, litigation, voter registration and turnout among black and Latino communities in the general election. It was formed in August and has recently begun developing partnerships with other organizations to expand voter education, registration, protection and turnout.

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