Democracy on trial

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(NNPA)—On Election Day, I found myself thinking about Venezuela. In the context of a hotly contested race for the presidency of the country, all reports indicated that the Venezuelan elections were handled smoothly with very few problems. This was true despite constant warnings in the U.S. media that the Venezuelan elections would somehow be undermined by the incumbent administration of President Hugo Chavez.

Now contrast that with the U.SA. and tell me what sorts of conclusions you arrive at. For two years we have had Republican-dominated state legislatures seeking to reduce the opportunities for people to register to vote and vote. There have been efforts to curtail early voting and voting on Sundays. Teams of right-wingers were put together to show up at polling places with the objective of challenging alleged fraudulent voters, but in effect, to intimidate voters. And, of course, we had various problems with voting machines, such as the now famous machine in Pennsylvania that kept changing Obama votes into Romney votes.

I would suggest to you—and maybe I am taking a risk in raising this—that it appears that we have a problem with democracy right here at home. How can efforts to reduce the number of those who can vote be justified? Why should organizations fear the undertaking of voter registration? Why should early voting be curtailed?

While it is the case that many of the efforts at what has come to be known as voter suppression were blocked by the intervention of the Justice Department and the courts, it is not time to rest easy. Keep in mind that the forces that were attempting to block our vote have not disappeared. They are still very much with us, just like a virus that has entered our system. In addition, the US Supreme Court will be considering aspects of the 1965 Voting Rights Act with the aim of ascertaining whether it needs to be weakened in light of the nearly 40 years of its existence. Right-wingers—and the National Black Chamber of Commerce—are suggesting that the protections offered by the Voting Rights Act are no longer necessary. After watching the 2000, 2004, 2008 and now the 2012 elections, I am uncertain how anyone could arrive at such a conclusion.

The fight for voting rights is far from over. The Republicans were stung by the results of November 6 and I think that it is a fair guess to suggest that they are not going to fold up shop. With the changing demographics of the U.S.A., they will seek to return to power and in order to succeed, they will need to knock some of us out of the batter’s box, i.e., they will need to reduce the number of voters that they see as pro-Democratic.

Voting rights is not about being pro-Democratic. It is about being pro-democracy. African Americans, Latinos, Asians and many White allies stood up in the face of electoral shenanigans and insisted that they be heard. Over the coming months we will be called upon to make our voices heard loud and clear on voting rights. Silence on this matter will certainly mean that the idea of democracy in the U.S.A. will take a further hit, this time perhaps a mortal blow.

(Bill Fletcher Jr. is a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us”—And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. He can be reached at papaq54@hotmail.com.)

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