A tidal wave of racist anti-voter legislation is being generated by U.S. state legislatures. Reminiscent of the Jim Crow era, the laws are mainly aimed at the Black community and other people of color. In a coordinated din, MAGA Trump supporters and right-wing pundits promote these anti-democratic laws based on lies about voter fraud in the 2020 election of Joe Biden.
The underlying goal is not just to turn Democratic blue states Republican red, but to ensure that voting is a privilege — not a right — to be bestowed at the pleasure of those in power.
The facts on the ground. As of July 2021, 18 states had passed anti-voter legislation, with 400 more of these bills pending in 49 states.
A Texas bill dramatically reduces polling places in rural and poor areas, bars early voting, and bans drive-through voting. A particularly dangerous change legitimizes partisan “poll watchers,” including far-right militia types. In Georgia and Florida, it is now a crime to give water to those waiting in long lines. Other laws remove ballot drop boxes from tribal reservations, shorten voting hours, eliminate mail-in ballots, and prohibit helping others to register.
These malicious laws directly target Black, Native American and Latinx voters, along with other people of color and immigrants. But they also harm rural residents, the elderly, and people with disabilities. They are being engineered by the hard right via the Republican Party.
Democrats are pushing back to some extent, out of political self-interest if nothing else. But even with command of the White House and slim majorities in Congress, they have failed to make a difference. On the national front, the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act are both stalled in the Senate.
Even mainstream civil rights leaders are frustrated. As NAACP President Derrick Johnson said, “We organized in November to put people in office to address the issue of voter suppression. We did not organize … to let elected officials off the hook.”
Once again, it becomes apparent that reliance on the Democrats is no substitute for building a militant, grassroots, multiracial mass movement — like the one that knocked out Jim Crow laws during the civil rights era of the 1950s and ’60s.
Dark money funds backlash. A pantheon of rich ultra-right influencers are behind the anti-voter attack.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a deep-pocket lobbying group, is a major player. It is funded by Koch Industries, energy and pharmaceutical giants, the Heritage Foundation and others. ALEC drafts model legislation and pays lobbyists to promote it. The multi-million-dollar Bradley Foundation finances voter fraud alarmists. Also in the mix is the State Policy Network of far-right think tanks that includes the virulently anti-union Freedom Foundation.
These reactionary powerbrokers are determined to keep the multiracial working class divided and dominated. They blame mail-in ballots and early voting for Barack Obama’s victories and for Biden’s election, in which people of color turned out in record numbers. They are also alarmed by the Black Lives Matter uprising, the potential for similar feminist and LGBTQ+ upsurges, stepped-up union organizing, and election gains by outspoken progressives.
A fight to grow our power. Capitalist democracy isn’t fair or representative. It is designed to keep the rich in control while making voters think they are participating in setting the country’s direction.
As the ascension of Donald Trump in 2016 made painfully clear, the popular vote for president doesn’t actually determine elections; the Electoral College does. (For the racist origins of this institution see “Electoral College Is a Legacy of Slavery”) Sometimes the Supreme Court, whose members are chosen for life by whichever party is in office when a vacancy happens, puts its thumb on the scales. It did this in 2000, when it stopped a recount of ballots to give George W. Bush a win over Al Gore.
Not exactly a system of one person, one vote!
And, of course, even setting aside the current rash of restrictive laws, not everyone is allowed to vote. People convicted of felonies are barred in most states. Immigration status keeps millions from having a say on the laws they live under. Too often people are prevented from getting to the polls because of work schedules, lack of transportation, distance, or disability.
If a person is fortunate enough to cast a vote, what are their choices? Given the overwhelming influence of corporate money and the byzantine laws that protect the two-party duopoly and keep minor parties off the ballot, the options will rarely be appetizing for anyone poor or working-class.
Yet the right to vote is a fundamental democratic liberty, and one that several generations of oppressed Black U.S. residents have fought and died for. The ballot is a badge of equality, one that still gives ordinary people a voice on initiatives, levies, taxes, and other issues that affect their daily lives.
This power must be defended and used. Joining the fight to stop the bigoted assault on the right to vote matters. To expose the rigged electoral system while fighting against its worst blights is to take one step toward overthrowing the whole bourgeois democratic system to achieve real racial justice and working-class democracy.
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