Commentary

Domestic terrorists and GOP’s leaders have voting rights in their sights

March 3, 2021 4:32 pm

Illustration by Niyazz | iStock / Getty Images Plus

The domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former President Trump is still making headlines, and rightly so. 

Congress this week continued its fact-finding efforts to get to the bottom of how and why it happened, and how to keep from letting it happen again.

But let’s not forget what inspired that day’s events: the false claim that Democrats stole the 2020 presidential election and a years-long organized push by the Republican Party to restrict or outright suppress the right to vote of anyone who isn’t marching lockstep with the GOP’s increasingly anti-democratic agenda.

It’s stunning to have to say this, but we’re now living in an era — for the first time in American history — when one of our nation’s two major political parties has concluded that winning at all costs is more important than protecting our cherished right to hold free and fair elections.

Setting aside the Capitol attack, a coup attempt meant to block the count and certification of the electoral votes, the GOP’s ongoing efforts to curb voting rights are ramping up.

As of February 19, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, “state lawmakers have carried over, prefiled, or introduced 253 bills with provisions that restrict voting access in 43 states, and 704 bills with provisions that expand voting access in a different set of 43 states.”

Guess who’s filing the bills designed to restrict access to the ballot box? Yep, it’s the GOP.

As the Brennan Center explains on its website, “In response to former President Trump’s continued lies about voter fraud, legislators across the country are aggressively attempting to limit voting access and roll back the gains of an election conducted during a deadly pandemic. These proposed bills will make it harder to vote, target voters of color, and take aim at the very election changes — such as mail voting — that made the 2020 election not only successful but possible.” (Keep in mind that, without voting by mail, untold thousands more Americans could be dead from COVID-19.)

Granted, the Brennan Center is an unabashedly left-leaning organization. But you don’t have to take it from them. Consider what a lawyer for the Arizona Republican Party told the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. During oral arguments in a case in which the GOP is fighting to keep in place two existing voting restrictions, attorney Michael Carvin readily admitted why Republicans oppose lifting the rules.

“It puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats,” Carvin told Supreme Court Justice and Trump appointee Amy Coney Barrett. “Politics is a zero sum game. Every extra vote that they get through unlawful interpretations of Section 2 (of the Voting Rights Act) hurts us. It’s the difference between winning an election 50-49 and losing an election.”

Well, at least Carvin was honest. 

At issue in the Arizona case is a law that lets election officials toss out ballots cast in the wrong precinct, even if that voter is legally registered to vote. The other law criminalizes the practice of collecting ballots and delivering them to a polling place or election office on behalf of another voter, even if that voter is legally registered to vote.

Heaven forbid that legally registered voters in a democracy would be allowed to have their votes counted.

Hey, I have a crazy idea: What if we did everything we could to make it easier instead of harder for anyone who is legally registered to vote to actually vote?!

And Arizona voters aren’t the only ones being targeted by the Republican Party’s new Jim Crow laws.

Yes, Jim Crow, which, back in the day, included local and state statutes and other arbitrary rules made up right on the spot, mainly kept Black people from enjoying their rights to full and participatory citizenship. Not as well known are how variations on Jim Crow, at least until the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, also inspired discriminatory practices against other communities of color, including segregated schools for whites and Latinos in California, Arizona and elsewhere.

Notably, four witnesses told Congress in 1986 that William H. Rehnquist, who hailed from Arizona and would eventually go on to serve as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was part of a Republican campaign in 1962 “designed to reduce the number of Black and Hispanic voters by confrontation and intimidation.”

Rehnquist is the same guy who once wrote: “I realize that it is an unpopular and unhumanitarian position, for which I have been excoriated by ‘liberal’ colleagues, but I think Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed.” Plessy v. Ferguson is the 1896 Supreme Court ruling that sanctioned racial segregation in public facilities in the U.S.

Coincidentally (or maybe not), Chief Justice John Roberts, who leads the Supreme Court today, once clerked for Rehnquist. A long-time critic of the Voting Rights Act, Roberts also penned the majority opinion in a landmark 2013 case, Shelby County v. Holder,  that gutted two key sections of the Voting Rights Act. 

It was the sections of the Voting Rights Act that would have blocked Arizona, without federal Justice Department clearance, from passing many of the voting restrictions the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature has initiated in recent years.

A Supreme Court ruling on the Voting Rights Act opened the floodgates for new restrictions

The proper response to the national frenzy of voter restrictions is passage of the For the People Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act, federal legislation that would push back hard against the Republicans’ war on voters. The new Voting Rights Act is named for the late Congressman Lewis, who fought with Martin Luther King, Jr. and others in support of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Congress should pass these bills before the GOP does even more damage to our electoral system. 

So far, the bill’s sponsors have strong Democratic backing. The For the People Act passed in the House on Wednesday. Lewis lived long enough to see the latest iteration of the Voting Rights Act passed in 2019. The bill was renamed in his honor after Lewis’s death from cancer in 2020. 

But Republicans, you guessed it, remain roundly opposed to the passage of both bills. 

Seems old habits die hard.

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James E. Garcia
James E. Garcia

James E. Garcia is a Phoenix-based journalist, playwright and communications consultant. He is the editor and publisher of Vanguardia Arizona, which covers Latino news statewide, and the weekly newsletter Vanguardia America. As a journalist, he has worked as a reporter, columnist, editor and foreign correspondent. He was the first Latino Affairs correspondent for KJZZ, and the first Latino editor of major progressive news weekly in the U.S., The San Antonio Current. James has taught writing, ethnic studies, theater and Latino politics at ASU. He is the producing artistic director of New Carpa Theater Co. and the author of more than 30 plays.

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