“We hold these truths self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
With much to celebrate yesterday, we celebrated our nation’s birthday. We wished each other a Happy July 4th. We gathered with families and friends. There is much to celebrate. Our great country continues to move forward celebrating all our nation’s people. We are inextricably bound together. Together many of us work to make more perfect this union, as our forbears believed we must.
But today, on July 5th urgent work looms. With the GOP gaming elections in multiple ways, voting has become a cruel joke on too many in the electorate. So far our side has not fully mobilized to confront the decades-long attempt to strip you and me of our vote. This is not imaginary. It happens, as I will illustrate.
I believe that until recently Democrats have been unwilling to talk too loudly about this issue for fear that such talk might inadvertently suppress the vote even more. We know that when Democrats turn out, we win. This can be true even in heavily gerrymandered districts. Thus getting every last legal voter registered and to the polls is vitally important in upsetting the GOP gerrymandered apple cart. But it is not gerrymandering alone which keeps Democrats from voting. It is the entire bundle of tactics and strategies designed to peel away votes, a few votes here, a few there, a thousand here and a thousand there, until finally the cumulative effect is major. Remember all those too-close-to-call elections by margins under 100 votes and going into recounts?
Long before Virginia’s Voter ID requirement, when we still lived in Virginia, my husband was told he could not vote without a driver’s license. That was false at the time. On one occasion, I was told (falsely) that I was not on the voter registration books. At the time, I had voted in the same precinct for more than 20 years. When after a couple of “looks” at the books supposedly turned up nothing, I insisted that a Democratic poll official weigh in. And then the GOP poll worker found me on the books, where I had been all along. Another time I was told I “couldn’t vote” because my maiden name was on my registration, but not on my driver’s license. (This, by the way presents a growing threat to the voting rights of married women who changed their names at marriage-please make your registration and driver’s licenses match. A female Texas judge was denied the vote for this reason). I (politely) demanded other poll officials step in. And I did vote on a regular ballot. In some tight races only 2 votes per precinct could be the difference in an election. This is not trivial.
Recent testimony has led even NCs conservative majority in the GA to dilute one part of its new Voter ID law. Now voters can use a provisional ballot if they do not have an ID. However, this is non-ideal because it is second class voting. Provisionals are less likely to be counted. Please read some of the testimony linked in this paragraph. A sizable number of voters have been led on a wild goose chase for documents they will never be able to obtain.
Beyond voter ID, numerous ways of suppressing the vote have been skillfully included in the more than 50 page voting bill which passed our NC GA here. There are dozens of changes to the law. Notice,however, how benign sounding Wapo makes the added observers sound! They aren’t. And there are already plenty of officials at NC polling places. One of the least talked about methods of vote suppression is voter intimidation at the polls, which is further “legitimized’ by adding these added observers. They will be, in many cases, actually from a Tea Party group called “True the Vote.” This group has filed false claims of thousands of legal/legitimate voters in multiple states, including NC. In state after state there is little to no evidence that voters are voting illegally and that a “problem” is exceedingly rare. This hasn’t stopped pols trying to invent a faux scandal.
Vote suppression hawk Sec of State Chris Kobach of Kansas has now been given authority to bring cases of “voter fraud,” bypassing the official prosecutors offices. This same right wing politician has marketed a software program with lists to other states, falsely accusing voters who merely have moved of voting in two states.
Another vote suppression tactic is frequently moving polling places so voters aren’t sure where to vote. Think this doesn’t happen? In District F in Montgomery County, VA, where we used to vote when we were Virginia residents, our polling place was moved numerous times in an 8-10 year period. We voted at the Briarwood Club House, near the right front of the elementary school, near the left front of the elementary school, at the front of the middle school, the side of the middle school. When, following the gym collapse of Blacksburg High, the middle school temporarily served as the high school, we voted in the back of the building. A greeter for many years, I saw voters driving in circles not sure where to go. No voting place, I repeat no voting place, should be moved that many times. Would it surprise you then that the registrar then was a Republican and the turnout in that district historically was around 70% Democratic? What is really sad is that the Republican registrar was appointed at the time by a majority of election board Democrats, who should have used their ability to appoint a Democratic registrar. Democrats just cannot make those kinds of supposed “bipartisanship” mistakes. Republicans don’t. If we give away our times to have oversight, then we have abrogated our duty to provide balance.
Here in NC, registrars have moved student precincts around to suppress the turnout of young people. They have done this to students at Appalachian State in Boone and to students of NC State in Raleigh. This is no accident.
Hostile takeovers by the NC General Assembly of city and county voting has become a real problem in NC. Today’s (7/5/2015) News and Observer lead editorial includes these words regarding the G’s hostile takeover of county elections in Wake County and the City of Greensboro, both Democratic strongholds. This paragraph is specifically about Wake County:
Why? Republicans have been turned out of both boards (Supervisors and Education) after years of angry, unproductive rule. They were summarily dismissed in fair and square elections, elections, by the way, conducted with the same rules rules in effect when Republicans were in power. So GOP leaders fixed that, literally, by drawing new districts skewed to diminish the voting power of Democrats.
Most Democrats would lose next time under the rigged plan. And some seats were eliminated altogether. The GOP cannot stand that Dems recently won every single space up for a vote on the Wake County Boards of Supervisors and hold most on the Board Education. In Greensboro, now GOP pols get to chose their voters. This stands voting on its head. We are supposed to choose government leaders, not the other way around.
Gerrymandering on steroids has loomed over many states. But SCOTUS let stand last week Arizona’s bipartisan redistricting. Similar issues arise in North Carolina and Virginia. Just recently, in fact, Virginia’s gerrymandered districts were struck down.
We must not just be vigilant, but also we must act to protect the vote wherever it is threatened. Some Democratic candidates appear to be taking it seriously this time. Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders both have listed voting rights as critically important. We can help them achieve that either directly by working with candidates on voting rights or through groups specifically chartered to do just that. In NC it’s Democracy NC and the NAACP, the ACLU. I will write more about voting rights issues as we get closer to the election.