By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 24, 2022
“Slavery is not abolished until the black man has the right to vote.”
—Frederick Douglass (1865).
A few days ago, in the United States Senate, the Democrats fought vigorously against the suppression of the rights of black people to vote that were passed by 19 Republican-controlled states of the union.
In spite of their best efforts, the Democrats failed to achieve their objective, which led Carl Hulse to opine: “It was a disheartening moment for congressional Democrats, who put the full force of their majority behind the issue, despite the long odds of success” (Boston Globe, January 26).
This battle to prevent blacks from exercising their franchise goes back to the founding of the US. Although a small number of free blacks were among the voting citizens when the US constitution was ratified in 1789, blacks on the whole were not granted the right to vote until they had fought gallantly with the Union army against the Confederate forces during the Civil War.
After the Civil War, African Americans at a Black National Convention in Syracuse in 1864 passed the following resolution: “We want the elective franchise in all the states now in the Union, and the same in all such states as might come into the Union.” However, in spite of their bravery, most Southern states enacted the Black Codes in 1865-66 which prevent the formerly enslaved from voting. WEB Du Bois noted: “The struggle after the Civil War for black people was the struggle to grant equal suffrage to blacks and to abolish the black codes.” As a result of this war, black men (not black women) were given the right to vote in 1870.
Before the senate debate about the suppression of the black votes in states where Republicans are in control, President Joe Biden asked senators to consider the following proposition: “How do you want to be remembered? Do you want to be on the side of Dr King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”
Davis was the president of the Confederacy that fought to keep black people enslaved. Bull Connor was the Birmingham chief of police whose cops almost beat Lewis to death. Wallace, governor of Alabama, in his Inaugural Address in 1963, declared: “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” This is the racial history black people are fighting against.
After Donald Trump lost the 2020 election that he claimed he won, “legislators in 49 states drafted more than 440 restrictive voting bills, according to the Brennan Centre. Thirty-four became law. Four states all passed sweeping, omnibus election bills with long lists of new and more stringent restrictions. Seven states imposed harsher voted ID voter requirements, while some seven states shrunk the time frame for requesting mail ballots. Four states limited the use of mail ballot drop boxes, and seven states made it easier for citizens to be purged from the voter rolls.” (NBC News, December 21, 2021)
Apart from these restrictions, election supervision has become more polarised. Some states moved from having non-partisan officials conduct elections to having the legislators supervise them. Imagine, a Trump-elected official standing up to a request “to find” him a few more votes as the Republican secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, did when Trump asked him to find him 11,780 votes to ensure his election.
This politicisation of the electoral process took on more steam as 2021 progressed. Trump and his people—primarily white—were determined they would never lose another election even if it meant suppressing all of the black votes, no matter where one found them. Bishop Reginald Jackson, AME presiding prelate in Georgia, wrote: “Extremist Trump loyalists, desperate to keep their power, began an efficient and well-funded campaign to minimise black and brown voters, first in Georgia, and then, in a domino effect, in state legislatures across the country.” (January 16)
Herein lies the danger. Alexander Hamilton, as Jamelle Bouie pointed out, wrote: “If the State legislatures were to be invested with an exclusive power of regulating these elections, every period of making them would be a delegate crisis in the national situation, which might issue in dissolution of the nation.” (New York Times, January 21)
Trump’s transgressions have not gone unnoticed. Criminal investigations have been started into his “possible criminal disruptions”. On Thursday, Fani Willis, district attorney in Fulton County, requested a judge to convene a special grand jury to consider criminal investigation into Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.
The Brookings Institution concluded that Trump’s post-election conduct in Georgia had put him “at substantial risk of possible state charges, including racketeering, election fraud solicitation, intentional interference with performance of election duties and conspiracy to commit election fraud.” (New York Times, January 20)
The struggle for unfettered voting rights for black people continues in spite of the fact that some senators do not see black people as equal citizens. Mitch McConnell, the senate minority leader, answering a question about voting access and concerns from non-white voters, remarked: “Well, the concern is misplaced, because if you look at the statistics, African American voters are voting in just as high a percentage as Americans.” It suggested that being black makes you less American.
California Rep Judy Chu wrote on Twitter: “Please take 19 seconds to watch this video to understand why we have to fight for voting rights for ALL Americans.”
The sustained attack against black people presents a grave peril to American democracy. It also supports Derrick Bell’s position that America will remain a racist nation. We need to pay attention to these concerns.
3 thoughts on “Voting Rights in America”
The issues are as complex as they come. First of all the Democratic Party is assumed to be the party of African Americans. Whilst the Republican Party is assumed to be the party of White evangelical Americans. Both party cannot win solely on race so there is the middle American who simply vote for the candidate without party consideration.
The nature of politics in America is based on a strong committed power base. For the Democrats the rise of the antifada, the BLM movement in the last election saw a strong motivation by the African American to go out and vote. Mass voter registrations occurred in democratic states. Some of those African Americans registering did not have the basic requirements of a voter. https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/poll-75-percent-americans-support-voter-id
The Republicans voter base is white evangelicals usually the older tea party types. When the Democrats are in the charge the Republican power base is very active in the media. Kamla Harris the first Indian/Caribbean Vice President has been subjected to a barrage of attacks, mostly driven by the tea party types on social media. Any and everything she does is subjected to the worst form of interrogation and abuse, but such is any pioneer. Same as in TnT where KPB suffered the hostilities of the PNM mob and Port of Spain media.
What is happening in the US is political polarization of the worst kind. The Republican Party has evolved into Trump party. And their followers are fanatical in their political affiliation. Their is no reasonable grounds for civil conversation. And so the nature of American democracy has evolved to a point of no return.
The rule of representation requires an easy voting process. The 2020 elections raise the sceptre of fraud and as such has been reviewed by States with more severe punishment for anyone deem to be acting outside the law.
Countries complain when there is lower voter turn out. In Australia the standard is very high. “ Is voting compulsory? Yes, under federal electoral law, it is compulsory for all eligible Australian citizens to enrol and vote in federal elections, by-elections and referendums” One would assume in the last US 2020 elections that voter turnout was at its highest, that would have made everyone happy in the world’s oldest democracy. But did it ever opened up a “can of worms”. Rudy Giuliani led the battle to show voter fraud that almost resulted in the US second civil war, with Capitol Hill almost run over by a Trump inspired mob. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/rudygiuliani
The desire to have free all inclusive fair elections appear to be more elusive as ever in the US. Coloured by the demon of race and class division. These divisions is as deep as the Grand Canyon and is slowly creating a high level demagogue. Let us hope for the survival of western civilization that things improve.
Manchin and Sinema are the precipitators of the Democrats shortfall in Congress. The Republicans mission is clear cut which is really a follow up to undo what Obama did by the Trumpites and beyond in helping the working class. One only has to look at the skewed comments made by former Speaker of the House – Newt Gingrich on Fox news last Sunday.
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