The long, vicious assault on voting rights in America

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(NNPA)—The attack on voting rights for people of color in the United States of America is as old as the Republic itself.

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While Thomas Jefferson penned egalitarian words around the world against the tyranny of the oppressed, he ruled over forced labor and the enslaved at his home in Virginia. Under “Jefferson Democracy” only White men who owned land had the legal right to vote. By denying poor Whites the exercise of their vote and denying White women and all African-Americans (men and women) citizenship the so-called “Founding Fathers” set the foundation for today’s attack on voting rights.

The United States Constitution had to be amended to permit people of color and women to vote under the 15th and 19th Amendments (1870 and 1920, respectively) amidst massive resistance from those who agreed with the founder’s view of voter suppression.

After 95 years of dirty tricks at polling places the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted to outlaw all practices and procedures that affected a citizen’s right to exercise their vote based on race, gender or other protected classes (Section 2). The Act also included a provision for areas that had a bad record of racially discriminating against people of color to pre-clear their voting plans with the United States Department of Justice. Both Section 2 and Section 5 have been under attack since the 1960’s. Go figure!

The Black robes of bigoted judges in 2011 have replaced the White robes of domestic terrorists in the Ku Klux Klan, of the 1800’s.

Today’s policy debate over voting rights can be broken down into two camps. In one camp are those who believe that states have the right under the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to control voting laws for state and federal elections, however restrictive the laws. In the other camp are those of us who believe in federal enforced voting laws where every citizen has an individual and equal right to vote enshrined in the Constitution. I fight for the latter.

Thus, 13 states have approved new obstacles to voting:

•Kansas and Alabama—would-be voters must provide proof of citizenship

•Florida and Texas—New obstacles for non-profit groups to register voters

•Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia—Reduced early voting period

•Iowa—Barred all ex-felons from voting

•Maine—Repealed Election Day voter registration

•Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, South Carolina—Require photo identification at polling places

The effect of onerous voter suppression laws is real. Most American voters remember the presidential election of 2000 where state officials in Florida used suppression schemes to steal a federal election (ex-felon roll purging, absentee ballot tampering, voter intimidation, and outright vote theft). Likewise, in the presidential election of 2004 Ohio schemes such as private tabulators on public voting machines and voting machines designed and operated by political partisans again decided the federal election for George W. Bush. The same un-American activities may well occur in 2012, but if so many more states rather than one.

We must put an end to state-control of federal elections by calling on the White House and Congress to pass and enact a Constitutional Amendment for an individual right to vote protected by the U.S. Constitution. For those who believe such would take too long it is worth noting that of the 27 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution 7 were enacted into laws in less than one year. In fact, the 26th Amendment (granting18-year-olds voting rights) became law in only 3 months. Why? There was a demand for the White House and Congress to do the right thing.

Politically, we have come to a place for which our fathers and mother sighed with the election of President Barrack Obama. Yet, their collective tears will flow from the Great Beyond if we do not electorally stand up against the tea-partying grandchildren of the Klan who and exclaim with pride, “we too sing America”, and have the right to vote with equality.

(Gary L. Flowers is the executive director & CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.)

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