--> American Crime: Case #11 (Part 2): 1965 to Today: Gutting the Voting Rights Act and Disenfranchising Millions of Black People

American Crime

Case #11 (Part 2): 1965 to Today: Gutting the Voting Rights Act and Disenfranchising Millions of Black People

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Bob Avakian has written that one of three things that has “to happen in order for there to be real and lasting change for the better: People have to fully confront the actual history of this country and its role in the world up to today, and the terrible consequences of this.” (See “3 Things that have to happen in order for there to be real and lasting change for the better.”)

In that light, and in that spirit, “American Crime” is a regular feature of revcom.us. Each installment focuses on one of the 100 worst crimes committed by the U.S. rulers—out of countless bloody crimes they have carried out against people around the world, from the founding of the U.S. to the present day.

American Crime

See all the articles in this series.

 

Editors’ note: We are rush-publishing a draft of the crimes and history of suppressing the votes of Black people in this country, in two parts, because of its timeliness. We are in the process of finalizing this American Crime article.

The Crime

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) was signed into law in 1965, as the civil rights movement crested. It was designed to enforce the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Efforts to undermine the VRA began almost immediately after it was enacted, and accelerated after Barack Obama was elected president. In 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the VRA. As Revcom.us wrote, “The heart of the Voting Rights Act—what gave it its enforcement power until this Supreme Court ruling—is Section 5, which requires certain states and other jurisdictions to get pre-clearance from the federal government or court for any changes in laws or procedures relating to voting. This had prevented many schemes to limit the voting of Black and other oppressed people from going into effect up to this point.”1 The Court ruled that the conditions to ensure fair voting the VRA placed on Shelby County, Alabama, a stronghold of institutionalized white supremacy since the days of slavery, were no longer valid, because outright segregation had ended in the state!2

Within hours of the Shelby County decision, Greg Abbott, then the Texas attorney general, announced, “With today’s decision, the State’s voter ID law will take effect immediately. Redistricting maps passed by the Legislature may also take effect without approval from the federal government.” These maps have effectively assured the domination of the white supremacist Texas Republicans in a state where white people are a minority of the population.3 Within two months, North Carolina had “instituted a strict photo ID requirement; curtailed early voting; eliminated same day registration; restricted pre-registration; ended annual voter registration drives; and eliminated the authority of county boards of elections to keep polls open for an additional hour.”4 By 2018 at least 25 states had developed similar measures.

Purging Voter Rolls

Tiny typographical errors have triggered purges of registration rolls in different states.5 In 2017, Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, purged almost 600,000 people from the voting rolls. Then in 2018, while Kemp was running as the Republican candidate for governor—and still holding on to the position of secretary of state—he blocked the registration of 53,000 Georgia residents, 70 percent of them Black. Kemp won in a very close election.6

Polling places have been dramatically reduced in areas with large Black populations.7 The population of McClennan County, Texas, grew by more than 15,000 people between 2012 and 2018—more than two-thirds of that growth came from Black and Latino people. In that same period, the county closed 44 percent of its polling places, largely in Black areas. Similar closures took place in Brazoria, Harris, and other Texas counties.8 ,9

The impact of measures like these on the 2016 elections was summed up by Carol Anderson in her book One Person, No Vote: “Minority voters did not just refuse to show up. Republican legislatures and governors systematically blocked African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans from the polls.”10

Disenfranchising Former Prisoners

In addition, the Sentencing Project estimated that as of 2016, 6.1 million people in the U.S. had been stripped of the vote by laws restricting or preventing those convicted of felony-level crimes—over five times the number in 1976. They wrote, “One in 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate more than four times greater than that of non-African Americans.” In Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia more than one in five African Americans is disenfranchised.11

In 2018 Florida voters passed a constitutional amendment restoring the right to vote to the state’s 1.4 million former felons. Two months after it had taken effect, the Florida legislature passed a measure again imposing restrictions on ex-prisoners’ voting rights. The measure has since been at least temporarily struck down in courts.12

Multi-Million Dollar Campaign to Prevent Black People from Voting

In 2018, a federal court ruled that for the first time in almost four decades the Republican Party could initiate campaigns against alleged “voter fraud” without court approval. Previously, courts had ruled that Republicans repeatedly intimidated or tried to exclude Black and Latino people from voting in the name of “preventing voter fraud.”13

Today Republicans are funneling tens of millions of dollars into escalating what the New York Times called “a focus on limiting who can vote that became a juggernaut after the Supreme Court dismantled the Voting Rights Act in 2013.” Various fascist organizations are initiating lawsuits, recruiting “poll monitors” to intimidate voters, and launching their own “anti-fraud” campaigns. Spearheading this effort is the well-funded “Honest Elections Project,” formed by a staunch Trump ally. A prominent member of the Conservative Political Action Committee said that as November approaches, “It’s going to be all hands on deck.”14

And now, with the coronavirus pandemic still raging, Republicans from Trump on down are fighting to prevent voting by mail, despite the dangers that waiting in long lines and at crowded polling stations carry. The fascist attorney general of Texas has threatened criminal prosecutions of organizations that encourage voters under 65 years of age without COVID-19 to send in absentee ballots.15 The supreme court of Wisconsin recently ruled against delaying an election there, even as the virus raged in Milwaukee (a city where 4 in 10 residents are Black)—thousands of people wanting to vote were forced to wait crowded in long lines, since only five of the city’s 180 polling places were open.16

The Criminals

The U.S. Supreme Court. The Trump/Pence fascist regime, and the entire Republican Party. Governors and former governors across the country, like Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Greg Abbott of Texas. Republican dominated state legislatures across the country who passed vindictive and punitive measures. The “think tanks” and law firms who devise ways to prevent people from exercising what is supposedly a constitutional right. The legions of white supremacist foot soldiers who mobilize to carry out voter suppression of Black people, and right now are preparing to do it on a massive scale in November.

The Alibi

The fascists behind voter suppression efforts claim they are acting to preserve the integrity of the vote. Trump says that “there’s a lot of fraudulent voting going on in this country.”17 In fact, the number of people arrested and convicted for voting fraudulently is almost non-existent. The Brennan Center for Justice summed up its investigation into allegations of voter fraud: “Extensive research reveals that fraud is very rare. Yet repeated, false allegations of fraud can make it harder for millions of eligible Americans to participate in elections.”18

The Actual Motive

Starting in the 1960s the Republican Party, then led by Richard Nixon, began to implement its “Southern strategy”—openly courting the votes of backward whites, while suppressing the votes of Black people. This was articulated by Lee Atwater, advisor to presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush in a 1981 interview: “You start out in 1954 by saying ‘Nigger, nigger’ nigger’. By 1968 you can’t say nigger—that hurts you—backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff.... Now you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites ... ‘We want to cut this’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘Nigger, nigger. ’”19

The ugly white supremacy that is and has always been deeply woven into the fabric of this system is reaching grotesque expressions under the Trump/Pence regime—suppressing and disenfranchising millions of Black people and openly appealing to white supremacism—as it moves to consolidate fascism.


1. Supreme Court Guts Voting Rights Protection for Millions of Black and Latino People, Revolution, July 7, 2013 [back]

2. How Shelby County v. Holder Broke America, Vann R. Newkirk II, The Atlantic, July 10, 2018 [back]

3. The Effects of Shelby County v. Holder, the Brennan Center for Justice, August 6, 2018 [back]

4. Ibid. [back]

5. New Voting Restrictions in America, the Brennan Center for Justice, updated November 19, 2018 [back]

6. America’s Relentless Suppression of Black Voters, The New Republic, October 24, 2018 [back]

7. Southern U.S. states have closed 1,200 polling places in recent years, Reuters, September 10, 2019 [back]

8. Texas closes hundreds of voting sites, making it harder for minorities to vote, Richard Salame, The Guardian, March 2, 2020 [back]

9. Super Tuesday Plagued By Hours Long Wait In Parts Of Harris County, Houston Public Media, March 3, 2020 [back]

10. One Person, No Vote–How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy, Carol Anderson, Bloomsbury, 2018 [back]

11. Felony Disenfranchisement, The Sentencing Project [back]

12. Voting Rights Restoration Efforts in Florida, The Brennan Center for Justice, May 31, 2019 [back]

13. Freed by Court Ruling, Republicans Step Up Effort to Patrol Voting, Michael Wines, New York Times, May 18, 2020 [back]

14. Ibid. [back]

15. The fight over letting Texans under 65 vote by mail, explained, Ian Millhiser, Vox, May 22, 2020 [back]

16. What we know about why Milwaukee had only 5 voting sites for Tuesday's election while Madison had 66, Alison Dirr and Mary Spicuzza, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 9, 2020 [back]

17. Trump: ‘There’s a lot of fraudulent voting going on in this country,’ The Hill (YouTube), April 8, 2020 [back]

18. The Myth of Voter Fraud, the Brennan Center for Justice [back]

19. Lee Atwater‘s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy, Rick Perlstein, The Nation, 11/13/12. [back]

states voting restrictions
The Supreme Court‘s ruling in 2013, that a key section of the Voting Registration Act was unconstitutional, accelerated actions in at least 25 states including strict photo ID requirements, early voting cutbacks, and registration restrictions. Map: Brennan Center for Justice

Wisconsin voters
The supreme court of Wisconsin ruled against delaying an election there, even as the virus raged in Milwaukee – thousands of people wanting to vote were forced to wait in long lines, since only five of the city‘s 180 polling places were open. (Photo: AP)

Clip: “The direct line from the Confederacy to the fascists of today”

BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian is a book of quotations and short essays that speaks powerfully to questions of revolution and human emancipation.

“You can't change the world if you don't know the BAsics.”

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