Basic Democratic Value Under Attack

Jesse Jackson | 6/8/2018, 7:35 a.m.
The talk shows are filled with the latest rumor about WikiLeaks and Russian interference in our elections. What was done ...
Jesse Jackson

The talk shows are filled with the latest rumor about WikiLeaks and Russian interference in our elections. What was done still remains a mystery. But Republican tricky leaks -- the systematic efforts to suppress the vote -- are an established fact, and a far greater threat to free elections.

The facts are not in dispute. A recent report by the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty notes that in addition to suffering the most extreme inequality in the industrial world, the U.S. ranks among the lowest for voter participation. Voter registration levels, for example, are 64 percent in the U.S., compared with 91 percent in Canada and the United Kingdom and 99 percent in Japan.

This isn't an accident. As The New York Times reports, conservatives have openly stated for years that they do better when fewer people vote. In the South under segregation, the power structure used any number of tricks -- poll taxes, and special quizzes, intimidation and just plain murder -- to keep blacks from voting. Now, Republicans are clear that they must suppress the vote if they are to keep power. As professor Donald Jones stated at a Florida hearing of the National Commission for Voter Justice, "When it comes to the vote, we are in the Second Civil War."

The National Commission for Voter Justice was launched by RainbowPush early this year to undertake a 2-year mission of documenting the status of voting rights in the U.S., educating the public about ongoing threats and inspiring reforms to reaffirm the right to vote. The NCVJ has held hearings in four states -- Michigan, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida -- and produced research from six states.

The NCVJ found that systematic efforts are underway to make voting more difficult in state after state. Voter purging and voter caging is being conducted on a much larger scale since 2016 than is popularly recognized.

In Georgia in 2017, 320,000 voters who had been purged from the voter rolls had to file a lawsuit to regain the right to vote. In Florida, black voters are being purged after being labeled "inactive," by not responding to a mail request for confirmation of address. The Interstate Crosscheck System, invented by Republican attorneys, is used by 27 states and is estimated to lead to the wrongful purging of hundreds of thousands of voters.

States also work to make voting harder. They limit the days of early voting, reduce the number of polling places, leading to long lines and frustrated voters, and relocate polling places to distant communities. Georgia is notorious for moving polling sites from black communities to inaccessible locations with poor advance notice. Ex-felons who have served their sentence are still disenfranchised in Florida and other states; student face more and more barriers designed to keep them from voting.

Republican state legislators have pushed to pass voter ID laws across the country; 34 states now enforce these laws. An estimated 11 percent of U.S. citizens -- 21 million people -- lack a governmental issued photo ID. One in four African Americans lacks this form of ID. The Government Accountability Office found that strict photo ID laws reduce turnout by 2 to 3 percent.