Congressional Briefing April 21, 2016: "How Voter Suppression Efforts Are Threatening Our Democracy"
"It is democracy time!" were words that led into this historic congressional briefing, "How Voter Suppression Efforts Are Threatening Our Democracy." Sponsors were the National Election Defense Coalition and Transformative Justice Coalition. The moderator of the distinguished panel and members of the Congressional Black Caucus was Barbara Arnwine, former Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and presently co-sponsor of the Transformative Justice Coalition. What does the dismal handling of the primaries and caucuses held so far bode for the U.S. Congress?
Arnwine listed members of the Caucus who were present: Reps. John Conyers (former Chair of the House Judiciary Committee), Sheila Jackson Lee, Terry Sewell, Marc Veasey, Maxine Waters, Elijah Cummings, Hank Johnson, and others. 2016 marks the fifth year of intensive voter suppression. Long lines have marred proceedings in so many of the primaries and caucuses. Too
many provisional ballots have been filled out because voter names have been mistakenly or purposely removed from lists.
New York should not be high on your list of places to vote. There is no early voting, and registration for primaries, specifying partisan affiliations, this year was required in September proceeding last November. For some reason partisan affiliations were somehow often flipped and independents were not allowed to vote in this closed primary anyway. Brooklyn represented the nadir location: 125,000 names had been removed, 65,000 names added. Some gullible people were even told to vote on their iPhones.
Arnwine exhorted Congress to act; people must debate and repeal voter suppression; democracy must become more inclusive. Victims were "people who wanted to vote," she reiterated three times, herself the author of the Map of Shame, which depicts voter repression legislation state by state. (http://www.aflcio.org/Multimedia/Infographics/Map-of-Shame-Vote-Suppression-Legislation-by-State).
The scheduled moderator, Roland S. Martin, award-winning TV1News!Now anchor, was unable to stay after proudly announcing that Mississippi's state flag, which contains an image of the Confederate flag, was pulled down today. He introduced the first speaker, the distinguished head of the North Carolina NAACP, Rev. William Barber, founder of Moral Mondays, "protests [in North Carolina spanning] many wide ranging issues under the blanket claim of unfair treatment, discrimination, and adverse effects of government legislation on the citizens [there]."
"This is a season where the doves were crying," said Barber. "Voting Rights attacks are blasphemy!" The right to vote was obtained through blood and self-sacrifice. The Voting Rights Act was expanded five times before being gutted in 2013 by the Supreme Court in the Shelby County v Holder decision--a "constitutional and moral travesty." As a result, the worst attacks on voting rights have occurred since the nineteenth century. The South was freed to pass all the suppressive legislation and measures it wanted to: Texas jumped in the next day, with North Carolina passing the "worst, meanest" legislation soon after. 1.3 million qualified citizens could be kept from voting in November. One state university was cut in half by redistricting, so that the power of student votes, usually liberal, was diluted. Meanwhile Texas, which excels in other areas benefiting we the people, now ranks last in the country in the area of voting rights, Rep. Veasey later added. 25 percent of African Americans there were likely not to have the required voter ID and would be forced to vote provisionally. A bipartisan panel of judges proved that these impediments evidenced purposeful discrimination.
"If you have the South, you have the nation," said Barber.
James Crow, Esquire, is back on the scene, in lawyer's attire. Forty North Carolina cities had been subject to Section 5 preclearance and had required it many times. Election 2016 will be the first unprotected general election since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. All progress made since then was eradicated "in one fell swoop." Unconstitutional legislation is being passed by unconstitutional legislatures.
In North Carolina, same-day registration was eliminated, the early voting period was shortened, voting the straight party ticket was no longer permitted, as was registration by high school students preparing to vote. Fifty thousand pages documented all of the new repression.
And legislators in the Tar Heel State acknowledged happily that retrogression was now legal.
"The South must rise again but in a new way," said Barber. Moral Mondays must now encompass all seven days of the week.
He quoted FDR: "The ultimate rulers of the United States are . . . the people of this country."