By David Sheridan
Voting rights advocates everywhere have reason to cheer. Last week the Supreme Court refused to consider reinstating the 2013 North Carolina voting law that a U.S. Appeals Court had ruled unconstitutional because it acted “with almost surgical precision” to suppress the vote of African Americans.
Ever since North Carolina enacted restrictions on when, where, and how people could vote—restrictions that disproportionately harmed students, the poor, and people of color—civil rights activists have been fighting back in the courts, in the State House, and in the streets.
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Among those marching, rallying and speaking out to overturn the N.C. law have been educators like teacher Bryan Proffitt, president of the Durham Association of Educators.
“This entire process in N.C. has been clearly racist from the start—from the racist gerrymandering of voting districts to racist voter suppression laws to the racist dismantling of our public schools,” says Proffitt.
“All of this clearly fits into a pattern that those of us on the ground have understood for years. It’s great to have a court decision that takes us one step further toward the dismantling of the New Confederacy in N.C.”
The leader of North Carolina’s Republican-controlled Legislature has vowed that they would seek to enact a new voting restrictions law. In fact, G.O.P. leaders in all of the 17 states that have enacted voter restrictions are determined to defend their voter suppression laws. They contend that such laws are necessary to thwart voter fraud, although not a one of them has yet produced evidence of widespread voter fraud. As Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote in the North Carolina case, this law “imposes cures for problems that did not exist.”
Why continue to try to suppress the vote? Analysis of the 2016 election answers that question. Voter suppression works. In Wisconsin, for example, nine percent of the electorate, lacked the strict forms of voter ID required under the new voter suppression law, and voter turnout was reduced by 200,000 votes. Donald Trump won the state by 22,748 votes. The executive director of Milwaukee’s Election Commission reported that on Election Day, his office was flooded with calls from voters in the city’s poorest districts who said they were unable to a cast a ballot because they lack the proper identification.
As one University of Wisconsin political scientist has noted, “If democracy survives in our country, history will not be kind to the G.O.P. governors and legislators who have created laws to suppress the vote. Both Democrats and Republicans engage in gerrymandering, which is regrettable, but only the Republicans have sought to disenfranchise people of color—and that’s racist.”
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To bolster the voter suppression efforts of the G.O.P. leaders in the states, President Trump has established a Presidential Commission on Election Integrity and appointed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as its Vice Chair. Here is was what the Topeka Capital-Journal, Kobach’s home-state newspaper’ had to say about this move:
Trump and Kobach are uniquely unqualified to secure the ‘integrity’ of American elections. They both have obvious incentives to report vast, unchecked fraud in the country. They’ve both made hysterical, unfounded claims about ‘millions of people who voted illegally.’ And they both care more about a fictional crisis than the disenfranchisement of U.S. citizens.
Wisely, civil rights activists such as Bryan Proffitt are gearing up for more battles in the war to secure voting rights for all Americans—42 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and 147 years after the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the Constitution.