When it comes to unresolved political questions involving who can vote and when, a clear message is difficult to garner from the recent rulings, appeals and motions unfolding in courtrooms across the country.
By RA Monaco
Brazenly lurking around the perimeter of the protest were some with few reservations about displaying their ugly racist hate. It was only months before President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, that Dr. Martin Luther King addressed the masses gathered in Montgomery, Alabama–the destination of the historic five day protest march from Selma. From the back of a flatbed trailer, Dr. King stood to address the crowd joined in solidarity, the national media and a gathering of on-lookers clinging to the separate but equal illusions of the status quo.
His voice boomed: “Today, I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world that we are not about to turn around. We are on the move now. Yes, we are on the move and no new wave of racism can stop us…not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us…Let us march…on segregated schools…on poverty…on ballot boxes until all over Alabama, God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor…”
A March Co-Opted By Partisanship
It would be pure conjecture to suggest that in those words, he foresaw how the neoliberal economics of charter schools would reincarnate segregated schools and grow the armies of militarized police in Ferguson, Missouri and other cities across this country that continue to target people of color while providing a steady supply of bodies to the prison industrial complex. Or that, even with a president of color sitting in the oval office, poverty would again rise to touch nearly 50 million of God’s children in this nation. Or how, through the partisan designs of the few, our ballot boxes would be reclaimed from the masses to aid in the gerrymandering of our collective voices, denying us the decency and honor to walk through our streets with the confidence of our self determination.
Most certainly, it would be conjecture to think that the “march” Dr. King had foresaw, in those moments, would have been co-opted by the partisanship that now keeps us divided against our own interests—a partisanship that has become more important than people to both parties, to social progress and the essence of democracy itself.
It’s the Narcissism That Sticks
Journalist Gay Talese from the New York Times, described Gov. George Wallace that day. Looking out over the Montgomery protest through the blinds of his office, Gov. Wallace saw the 25,000 people —most of whom loathed his racist separate but equal view — as having taken the trouble to assemble in the Alabama capital as a form of personal flattery, lending testimony to his personal stature. The narcissism is troubling.
While the words of Dr. King seem to reconnect me to the dreams and hopes so many of us shared—it is the narcissism of George Wallace’s interpretation that sticks. It’s the same narcissism that present day governors like Rick Perry and Scott Walker seem to possess. The same deception, illusions of flattery and self-promotion that come at the expense of social progress and the collective self-determination of the people they govern. Never to be out-done, last year Texas Tea Party senator Ted Cruz, in his usual partisan-narcissist manor, even tried to add a voter-ID amendment to an immigration reform bill.
On that historic day, Dr. King proclaimed, “We are not about to turn around.” Now, nearly 60 years later, the time may have come for us to question the direction of that march—if in fact today’s partisanship even has a direction? If we are still “on the move,” that direction seems to be in circles— easily distracted by the media, following politicians bought-off quickly with campaign contributions while pursuing the corporate-state’s deification of unfettered capitalism, un-tethered to social responsibility.
Our Inability to Basically Share
Author David Simon told Bill Moyer earlier this year, “That notion, that profit is the metric that we are going to measure the health of our society, is one of the fundamental mistakes of the last 30 years.” Simon went on to describe two unconnected Americas and the mounting need to revisit our metric for national values. “We have become something other than what we claim for the American dream and all because of our inability to basically share—to even contemplate a socialist impulse.”
“Capitalism as an idea has moved beyond, it’s moved into the realm of sacred belief” according to Dr. W.K. Mott, Associate Professor of Political Science at Seton Hall University. “I think that the capitalist system is so pervasive that it truly scrubs just about every bit of dissent out of its citizens through its mythology and its creation of celebrity and other ideas… it’s preached from pulpit and it’s deified.”
Troubling, is that “the Supreme Court has walked away from any sort of responsibility to maintain democracy” according to David Simon. In fact, Justice Antonin Scalia has called the Voting Rights Act little more than a “racial entitlement.”
Making matters worse, is the uncertainty surrounding a form of partisan gerrymandering about who can vote and when—and how the evolving political questions are being fought around the country.
Discrimination in Elections Is No Historical Artifact
Not since the Jim Crow era has our nation experienced a trend of increasingly harsh rules making it more difficult to vote—which has happened in nearly two dozen states in the past four years. When it comes to finding a bright line in the legal questions about who can vote and when, a clear message is difficult to garner from the recent rulings, appeals and motions unfolding in courtrooms across the country.
“Racial discrimination in elections in Texas is no mere historical artifact,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in her dissent to the recent GOP voter ID law ruling. Joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, Justice Ginsberg lamented, “To the contrary, Texas has been found in violation of the Voting Rights Act in every redistricting cycle from and after 1970.”
Citing as justification for her raw criticism, Justice Ginsberg points to a long history of official discrimination in Texas voting. Specifically noting, “The statewide existence of racially polarized voting, the incidence of overtly racial political campaigns, the disproportionate lack of minority elected officials, and the failure of elected officials to respond to the concerns of minority voters.”
Despite the long history and just two days before early voting begins in Texas, the United States Supreme Court has permitted implementation of the controversial voter ID law—the nation’s strictest.
Partisan Shell Games
In discussing concerns about public confidence in Texas’ electoral processes and potential voter confusion, Justice Ginsberg attributes those problems to the State’s own conduct. Knowing that the court’s ruling in this case would come only weeks before this election, Texas stopped issuing alternative “election identification certificates and completely removed mention of Senate Bill 14’s requirement from government Web sites.” Intentionally, Texas grossly underfunded the State’s efforts to familiarize the public and poll workers regarding the new Senate Bill 14 identification requirements.
The Texas photo identification statute was described as nakedly partisan and may prevent up to 600,000 otherwise eligible voters from casting ballots this fall. But these partisan shell games aren’t unique to Texas by any measure.
The Supreme Court has delayed implementation of Wisconsin’s voter ID law until after mid-term elections. A fevered response from Rick Baas—Milwaukee County’s Republican Elections Commissioner—followed, urging republicans on Friday night to challenge voters at the polls who they “as a Wisconsin resident” think aren’t supposed to be voting. “You’ve got to do that,” said Baas. Knowing that his address would be covered by the media makes this plea seem an intentional effort to chill voter turnout—conduct which should be taken seriously by the Department of Justice.
The highly regarded Judge Richard Posner—a Reagan-appointed 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judge—released a blistering opinion Friday, October 10th which could be considered a compendium of disingenuous talking points and political practices employed to disenfranchise voters likely to vote for the political party that does not control the state government.
What makes Judge Posner’s opinion and changed mind so important is that it was he, in 2008, who approved the first Photo ID law in Indiana. A landmark ruling the Supreme Court later affirmed—Crawford v. Marion County.
Recent partisan driven voting laws range from cutbacks on early voting in Ohio and North Carolina to repeal of Election Day registration in Maine and as in both Texas and Tennessee, specific types of government identification required to vote. The Brennan Center for Justice calculated that, if implemented, these laws could make it far harder for five million citizens to vote.
The movement in a number of states including Wisconsin and Texas to require voters to prove eligibility by presenting a photo of themselves when they try to vote has placed an undue-burden on the right to vote—a right that the Supreme Court has found latent in the Constitution.
No Evidence of In-Person Voter Impersonation
As in Crawford—the Indiana case—the record contained no evidence of in-person voter impersonation at polling places to support the strict photo ID voter eligibility law sought in Wisconsin. Importantly, the district court found that 300,000 registered voters—9 percent of all registered voters in Wisconsin—lack qualifying identification. Many of them also lack the documents they’d need to in order to obtain a photo-ID. In Milwaukee alone, at least 26,162 eligible voters possess neither a photo-ID nor the documents they would need to obtain one.
There is no evidence that Wisconsin’s voter rolls are inflated. Moreover, there is compelling evidence that voter-impersonation fraud is essentially nonexistent in Wisconsin. In short, the state could not point a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past.
Partisan Maneuvers Permitted By the Supreme Court
Last year, at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Australia, David Simon told the audience that, “The last job of capitalism, having won all the battles against labor, having acquired the ultimate authority—almost the ultimate moral authority over what’s a good idea and what’s not, or what’s valued and what’s not—the last journey for capital in my country, is to buy the electoral process the one venue for reform that remained to Americans.”
This year, 21 states will hold elections under the rules enacted since 2011, seven of them for the first time. Not surprisingly, southern states once covered by the Voting Rights Act have moved quickly to implement new, stricter voting rules.
Increasingly permitted by the Supreme Court, these evolving partisan maneuvers jeopardize the historic path of our collective self-governance. Sadly, these rulings are a crushing disappointment to our legacy of social progress.