Rethugs have found a new use for the US Constitution
Following the arc of voting rights from the beginning of the country to the present says a lot about the character of the USA. Initially, the only class of citizens that had the power of the personal franchise was rich white landowners. A century would pass before an additional group of Americans were given the right vote, and that only after a bloody civil war that killed over a half a million people. Ratified as the 15th Amendment in 1870, it prohibited the denial of suffrage based on race, color, or previous status of servitude.
The next major evolution in voting rights occurred with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 that finally gave women the right to vote, a long hard fought battle that began in the colonies, a century before the country was ever created.
Another half century would pass before the next class of citizens was given the right to determine their collective future. The context was the ruinous Vietnam War, powered by a draft that destroyed the futures of hundreds of thousands of young Americans. The chorus of The Who‘s hit song Baba O’Reilly captured the zeitgeist, beginning with the lyrics “Teenage wasteland” and ending with a primal scream: “They’re all wasted!” Millions of angry draft age students took to the streets, myself included. A full blown generational revolution was brewing, highlighted by the killing of four Kent State University protestors in May of ’71 by the Ohio National Guard.
Finally, the argument that “if you were old enough to die for your country then you were damn well old enough to vote” began resonating with the rest of society. On March 23, 1971 Congress passed the 26th Amendment that lowered the voting age to 18. It was ratified by the states in record time a mere three months later. (Some have argued that the real turning point was the corporate Mad Men’s fear that they were losing an entire generation of American consumers, as the anti-war, anti-materialism counter-culture spread to Middle America.)
Not that the kind of social progress that a broader electorate brings guarantees a nice neat linear glide path forward. A major retrogression occurred in the late 19th century with the institution of the Jim Crow poll taxes aimed at suppressing the Black vote. In an act of rare political courage, President Lyndon Johnson, knowing full well that his party would lose its Southern “Yellow Dog Democrats” for a generation, pushed for passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that put an end to Jim Crow.
And now the country is facing another retrogression, its contours framed by conservative poohbah Paul Weyrich, who told a gathering of evangelical leaders in 1980:
“I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
PBS’ Frontline documents the success of Weyerich’s formula thusly:
Unprecedented Number of Restrictive Voting Laws Being Introduced
Nearly every state — 41 so far — has introduced some kind of restrictive voting legislation since the beginning of last year, and 18 have succeeded in passing laws, some of which could have a direct impact on the 2012 election, according to a recent analysis from the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law.
“This is almost unprecedented,” said Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, which tracks voting laws and which published the analysis. “We have not seen this number of restrictive voting laws pass probably since the end of the 20th century. Certainly, this is the biggest rollback since the civil-rights era in terms of voting rights.”
The type of restriction varies by state: Some require voters to show photo ID or proof of citizenship, while others have introduced restrictions on voter registration, or early or absentee voting.
Prior to this dramatic outbreak of voter suppression legislation from the states, the Rethugs have relied on a grab bag of tricks that have had the effect of stealing elections. The most obvious and grandest of all was the 2000 presidential election in which the five Republicans on the US Supreme Court called a halt to Florida re-count at the point where George W. Bush was ahead by less than 600 votes, effectively putting him in the White House. The administration of his brother Jeb Bush, then Florida’s Governor, helped by removing some 12,000 eligible voters and placing their names on a list of ineligible felons according to the Brennan Center.
During the 2004 presidential election, the crucial swing state of Ohio was awarded to the Rethugs, thanks to the machinations of its then Secretary of State, Kenneth Blackwell, whose second job at the time was co-chair of the Bush reelection team. As attorney Robert F. Kennedy Jr wrote in Rolling Stone Magazine:
Officials there purged tens of thousands of eligible voters from the rolls, neglected to process registration cards generated by Democratic voter drives, shortchanged Democratic precincts when they allocated voting machines and illegally derailed a recount that could have given Kerry the presidency. A precinct in an evangelical church in Miami County recorded an impossibly high turnout of ninety-eight percent, while a polling place in inner-city Cleveland recorded an equally impossible turnout of only seven percent. In Warren County, GOP election officials even invented a nonexistent terrorist threat to bar the media from monitoring the official vote count.
And now, in Florida particularly, it’s back to the future. According to an investigation by the Miami Herald:
Hispanic, Democratic and independent-minded voters are the most likely to be targeted in a state hunt to remove thousands of noncitizens from Florida’s voting rolls, a Miami Herald computer analysis of elections records has found.
Whites and Republicans are disproportionately the least-likely to face the threat of removal, the analysis of a list of more than 2,600 potential noncitizens shows. The list was first compiled by the state and furnished to county election supervisors and then The Herald.
The numbers change by the day. The state’s Division of Elections says it initially identified roughly 180,000 potential noncitizens by performing a search of a computer database that doesn’t have the most-updated information…
The election-year effort, led by a Republican-appointed secretary of state, has increasingly become a focus of concern among Democrats, liberals and civil-liberties groups. They worry that the state could wind up removing lawful voters from the rolls.
To get a glimpse of the mindset of today’s radical conservatives, so convinced that they are right about everything that they are willing to use the US Constitution as asswipe by attacking the fundamental guarantee of democracy, the vote, one need look no further than the spawn of Lucianne Goldberg, of Monica Lewinsky fame. Her son Jonah Goldberg, the author of the book “Liberal Fascism” and who spews forth regularly at The National Review, attacked the very premise of the 26th Amendment the other day, in an interview with The Daily Holler Caller:
Personally, I think the voting age should be much, higher, not lower. I think it was a mistake to lower it to 18, to be brutally honest….[I]t is a simple fact of science that nothing correlates more with ignorance and stupidity than youth. We’re all born idiots, and we only get over that condition as we get less young. And yet there’s this thing in this culture where, ‘Oh, young people are for it so it must be special.’
No, the reason young people are for it because they don’t know better. That’s why we call them young people…
But he didn’t stop there, adding in true Brown Shirt fashion:
The fact that young people think socialism is better than capitalism. That’s proof of what social scientists call their stupidity and their ignorance. And that’s something that conservatives have to beat out of them. Either literally or figuratively as far as I’m concerned.
Who’s the fascist here, Jonah? Any wonder why you and your ilk are referred to as Rethugs?
Florida voters are not the only ones who should be worried about whether their state has erroneously purged them from the list of eligible voters; the state of Texas also has a voter purge policy that erroneously targets eligible voters. The Houston Chronicle reportsthat, in a two year period, 300,000 eligible voters were warned that they may be removed from Texas voter rolls. Texas voter registration rates are already among the lowest in the nation, and one out of every 10 Texas voters’ registration is currentlysuspended. The almost 1.5 million voters who are suspended could be purged if they fail to vote in two consecutive general elections…
Eligible voters were threatened with removal most often because they failed to respond to generic form letters or because they were mistaken for someone else, which is even more worrisome given that there is a high incidence of voters sharing a name in Texas, particularly among Hispanics. Across Texas, 21% of voters who received purge letters later proved that they were eligible to vote.
WISCONSIN UPDATE: 6/5/12
Jun 5, 2012 at 11:00 am
From Eau Claire to Beloit, voters across Wisconsin are relaying stories via Twitter, Facebook and online message boards about anonymous “robocalls” from allies of Scott Walker, telling them–incorrectly–that if they signed petitions to recall Governor Walker, their vote in today’s crucial election has been recorded….