suppression sweeping the nation, anyone who is in
favor of a political system that is free and democratic
should be wary of new laws that restrict voting or
make voting dependent on an official identification
Right now, the estimate is that about
5 million Americans are being, or will be, scrubbed
from the voter rolls in various states across the
country. According to Bloomberg News, 18 states
have passed voter suppression laws and another 12
have such laws in the works.
Right-wingers have created this “problem”
of voter fraud out of whole cloth and the Republican
Party has fallen into lockstep. They can’t seem to
dream up voter suppression laws fast enough. But,
how much of a problem is voter fraud that it would
take up so much time and energy of legislatures?
Many of the Republicans who
are today involved in the voter suppression efforts
in so many states are heirs of the Dixiecrats who
fled to the GOP after Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting
It’s this much of a problem: in the
scheme of American life, shark attacks are extremely
rare (like being struck by lightning twice). Voter
fraud is so rare in the U.S. that a shark
attack is 30 times more likely to occur than voter
fraud. So, why are Republicans so frothingly pursuing
voter ID laws? Simply, to suppress the vote among
people who might vote for Democrats.
Under these laws, all people who might
not have a driver’s license as part of their daily
life would have to make an effort to get an official
ID. Many people of color, the elderly, students, the
disabled, the poor, and others would likely not be
able to easily get one and, for many of those, the
cost is prohibitive (it can be upwards of $100 or
Just think about it. As many as five
million voters are likely to be denied their voting
rights, and this is nearly a half-century after the
landmark Voting Rights Act. This unthinkable circumstance
is happening across the country, just as it happened
in backwater counties in the South after the Civil
The Black Codes that were in effect
in the South denied former slaves and their subsequent
generations not only their voting rights, but their
human rights. Their very humanity was being denied,
even though the bloody war had been fought and slavery
had been abolished. The power structure had its ways
to maintain control and to maintain white supremacy,
even though the law of the land (the constitutional
language notwithstanding) said that everyone was free,
human beings could not be owned, and everyone could
participate in the political process.
Every effort was made to control freed
slaves and, more importantly, to control their labor,
their movement about the country, and to maintain
the illusion of inherent inferiority of the freed
slaves and anyone who resembled them (including African
Americans who had been free for many years).
Voter suppression took on many guises
at that time: the instilling of fear in the new potential
voters, through terrorism of groups like the Klan,
and a more subtle form (if you can call it that),
the institution of poll taxes. The Voting Rights Act
was intended to remove obstacles to the exercise of
the voting franchise of all Americans and that seemed
to be the way it was headed, until now.
Nearly 20 years ago, the so-called
motor-voter laws allowed people to register to vote
at their local motor vehicle office, as well as through
the usual voter registration processes. But that was
seen widely by some as a benefit to Democrats, rather
as a means to bring more citizens into the process.
Steal a chicken to feed your
family and you would not be allowed to vote…ever.
Jonathan Alter, writing for Bloomberg
News earlier this summer, and noting the numerous
states that have passed voter suppression laws, said,
bills attack the League of Women Voters by requiring
some volunteers to attend state-approved training
sessions before they can register voters. The catch
is that the bill makes no provisions for such sessions.
Ha! It does threaten them with penalties for registration
offenses that aren’t specified. The bill is modeled
parts of which a federal judge invalidated May 31
because he said they had ‘no purpose other than to
discourage’ constitutionally protected activity.”
If people of color, the poor, students,
and others are seen to lean toward voting Democratic,
especially in presidential elections, it stands to
reason that the Republicans will make every effort
to keep them from voting. The American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU) reported this summer that it had “already
won critical legal battles in Virginia and Missouri.”
In early June, the ACLU won a federal
court ruling that blocked key provisions in Florida’s new voter suppression laws, which “discourages voter registration
As many as five million voters
are likely to be denied their voting rights.
“The new law was so punitive and technical
that groups such as the League of Women Voters stopped
registering voters altogether, rather than risk fines
and prosecution,” said the ACLU. As result, the rights
organization noted, “100,000 fewer Floridians registered
to vote in the months since Florida’s new law took effect than during the same
period in 2008 - this in a state that famously decided
the 2000 Bush-Gore presidential election by 537 votes.”
Nationwide, the League of Women Voters
has been registering voters and teaching them how
to exercise their fundamental rights for nearly 100
years and, thanks to the efforts of the ACLU, the
LWV once again can begin registering voters in Florida. The litigation works, although it may take time to defend
the rights of citizens, but the ACLU also is launching
a “Let me Vote” campaign, a national effort to educate
the electorate about their rights, through the media
and directly to the general public (www.aclu.org/letmevote).
The group will use op-ed pieces, public service announcement,
advertising, and social media, along with other methods.
The history of voter suppression
in the U.S.
is long, starting with the drafting of the U.S. Constitution,
which counted some inhabitants as three-fifths of
a human, while others counted as whole human beings.
The latter were the ones who had a vote (but there
were even restrictions put on those who counted as
a whole human), while all the rest, including women
(no matter who they belonged to, and that term is
purposefully used), could not vote.
It was after the Civil War and the
official abolition of slavery that those who controlled
elections became very creative in finding ways to
continue that control. There were laws passed prohibiting
anyone who was convicted of a felony from ever voting.
Those were days when freed slaves and their families
were very hungry, literally. There was little experience
on the part of the newly freed of working for wages
and there were few jobs they could get. Those in power
wanted to keep it that way. How could they do that?
For one thing, they could make it a felony for anyone
to steal a chicken, and they did. Steal a chicken
to feed your family and you would not be allowed to
Voter suppression has been brought
up to date and sometimes it is subtle, maybe even
inadvertent. For example, Sojourners magazine
recently pointed out, “According to a recent story
in The New York Times, rural Alabama resident Gina Ray was locked up for over
a month because she couldn’t pay fees and fines related
to minor traffic offenses. Speeding while being poor
shouldn’t land someone in jail. These punishments
don’t fit the crime; they only help the companies
that profit from people’s misery.
Usually, prison time means a felony.
Does this mean that Ms. Ray will be prohibited from
voting because of her go-around with the Department
of Motor Vehicles? Or, with some local jurisdiction?
Sounds like old times.
18 states have passed voter
suppression laws and another 12 have such laws in
The right to vote for hundreds of thousands
voters could be affected by the recently upheld voter
ID law. Even though the state’s Department of Transportation
is making every effort to provide picture IDs, including
for those who do not drive, there is bound to be a
deterrent effect on the numbers of Pennsylvanians
voting in November. There are just too many who are
too old, infirm, or disabled who might be able to
make it to their voting locations, but it would be
just too much to get an ID (even at minimal cost)
and then vote. There is no estimate of how many thousands
would be so affected.
Viewed as a national phenomenon, voter
suppression today is as pervasive and creative as
it was in the post-Civil War South. But then, many
of the Republicans who are today involved in the voter
suppression efforts in so many states are heirs of
the Dixiecrats who fled to the GOP after Lyndon Johnson
signed the Voting Rights Act all those decades ago.
Their Reconstruction attitudes about universal voting
rights are alive and well in America in 2012.
Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and
former union organizer. His union work started when
he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild
in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years
for newspapers in New York State. In
addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers
as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous
pressure from factory food producers and land developers.
to contact Mr. Funiciello.