Opinion

NICHOLS: Voting Rights Are Under Historic Assault, Democracy Is At Stake

(Photo by David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

Jason Nichols Professor and progressive commentator
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Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column arguing that Biden’s election bills are meant to defend voting rights that are under assault from Republicans. You can find a counterpoint here, where FreedomWorks senior fellow Rev. C.L. Bryant argues they are are a cover to allow a federal takeover of elections.

We are approaching another Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in America. I suspect you will read a ton of virtue signaling tweets and out of context quotes from Republican politicians, feigning their admiration for the slain Civil and Human rights leader. Republicans will pretend they are the “Party of Lincoln”, when in 1983 when the holiday was voted into law, one third of Senate Republicans opposed it as did nearly half of Republicans in the House of Representatives (by comparison, only 13 of the 262 House Democrats opposed MLK Day).

It is therefore no surprise that the GOP would oppose one of Dr. King’s signature pieces of legislation and most important causes. Dr. King was fiercely patriotic and believed in the principles of American constitutional democracy. The Voting Rights Act was won with the blood of innocent Americans who stood up peacefully against the abuse of state power. They marched defiantly on a bridge named for a traitor against his country and a domestic terrorist.

Today, states are still abusing their power in an attempt to limit the votes of some people, particularly in areas populated by large numbers of people of color. This latest attempt to constrict democracy certainly looks different than it did in the past. Rather than poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses and direct forms of voter intimidation, there is felony disenfranchisement, voter purges and gerrymandering. Since Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the landmark Supreme Court case that stripped down the Voting Rights Act, Georgia’s voter rolls have grown by 2 million, but the amount of polling locations has been cut by 10%. It is estimated that 2 million more voters were purged from the rolls nationwide than would have been if the Shelby decision had not come down from SCOTUS.

The latest rash of voter suppression laws is fueled by the malicious lie that the 2020 presidential election was fraudulent and  illegitimate, despite the fact that Chris Krebs, a lifelong Republican and Trump appointed Cyber security expert, stated that it was the “most secure (election) in American history,” and Bill Barr, once an obsequious Trump acolyte, called the former president’s claims of election fraud “bullshit.”  Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s team logged in 22,000 hours looking for voter fraud and irregularities and found 16 cases, none serious enough to warrant jail time. Texas has 17,000,000 registered voters. Donald Trump’s lie has led to GOP state officials introducing 250 voter suppression laws in 43 states.

Republicans will say the voter suppression claims are exaggerated if not outright false. They will point to parts of the Georgia law that supposedly expand voter access. This argument is red herring.

The Georgia law restricts the amount of time one can request an absentee ballot. Voters in predominantly Black communities wait 29% longer than their counterparts in predominantly white neighborhoods, and they are 74% more likely to be subject to a wait of a half hour or more. This fact makes Black people likely to look at other, more convenient ways of casting a ballot, including absentee voting.

The amount of drop boxes in Fulton, Cobb, Gwinnett, and DeKalb Counties (Atlanta Metro) was 94 in 2020. There will be a maximum of 23 as a result of the new voting law. Also, knowing that voting lines are longer in Black and Brown communities, Georgia has made it more difficult to extend hours for in person voting. In addition, the law bans mobile voting centers, which made early voting more accessible in Fulton County. Around 11,200 votes were cast in mobile early voting centers. Possibly the most troubling part of the Georgia bill is that it empowers the overwhelming GOP Georgia General Assembly to take over the State Election Board and to suspend local county election board officials and replace them with people they choose. Interestingly, 76% of Georgia voters oppose this provision.

President Biden and (most) congressional Democrats argue for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, named for late Democratic Congressman and Dr. King protege John Lewis. Lewis shed his own blood on the Edmund Pettus Bridge for voting rights. The bill restores the provisions that Lewis nearly gave his young 25-year-old life for in 1965.

Lastly, if the GOP is truly interested in election security, they would support the Freedom to Vote Act. While Republicans constantly complain about George Soros and his money influencing politics, the Freedom to Vote Act removes big money and dark money from politics. It would make Election Day a holiday, which would benefit African Americans and Latinos who are less likely to be able to get off work to vote, but it would also drive up rural working class white voter participation. Republicans say they respect law and order, thus they should support the Freedom to Vote Act’s provision that calls for making interference with voter registration a federal crime and also increases penalties for those who harass or intimidate election workers. It calls for the post-election preservation of ballots and includes a requirement for post election audits as well.

It only makes sense that federal elections should have some federal standards.

The reason the President called it “Jim Crow 2.0” is because Jim Crow no longer wears a hood and a robe, he wears a suit and a smile. He carries an iPhone and is prepared with a few out of context Dr. King quotes about dreams and character, all while working to undo King’s concrete political accomplishments. They don’t need to keep all people of color in Georgia from voting, they only need to find 11,780 votes.

Jason Nichols is a lecturer in African American Studies at the University of Maryland and the cohost of the Daily Caller’s Vince & Jason Save The Nation.