John Colson: Does democracy only work right if it works white?
Hit & Run
The simple answer to that question is, “No!” And last weekend’s New York Times Sunday Review offered an intriguing look at how the current realm of Republican Party anti-democratic behavior, with its racist underpinnings, got its start.
By “anti-democratic behavior,” I should point out, neither the NYT writer nor I mean to limit the arguments solely to the GOP’s fervor to prevent the party of the Democrats from ever being elected again, anywhere in the country, if they can help it.
No, there is a broader issue to be confronted here, and that is the determination by some leaders in the Republican Party that democracy only works right if it works white — that is, the way to preserve America (as Republicans and their supporters want it to be) is to prevent non-white voters from casting ballots that presumably would be cast in favor of Democrats.
To achieve this aim, the Republican Party has embarked on what I can only view as a mendacious and vicious anti-American campaign that has been perfected over the course of the past 18 years into the juggernaut that brought us President Donald Trump, the Koch brothers’ radical political machinery and a Republican hegemony at both the national and state levels of government, mainly accomplished through trickery, fraud and lies.
This current round of voter-suppression tactics got its start back in the 2000 presidential election, according to Sunday Review writer and college professor Carol Anderson, who placed a good portion of the blame for our present dysfunctional political system squarely in the laps of state politicians and election officials, specifically singling out those in Texas, Florida and Missouri.
In case histories from those three states, Anderson found examples of early-voter suppression efforts that included the use of the notorious “hanging chads” in the Florida contests, as well as of purges of voter rolls and the establishment of ever-stricter voter-identification documentation, both of which tend to eliminate likely voters for Democrats, who happen mostly to be people of color in those states.
For those who were politically active and observant, the 2000 election stands as a hallmark in the annals of undemocratic victories, as that was the year that George W. Bush, son of a previous president, darling of the nation’s oil and gas corporations, failed to capture the popular vote but won by a slim margin of votes in the misbegotten and out-of-date Electoral College (just as Donald J. Trump did in 2016, in case you missed the connection).
How Bush won Florida is a classic example of electoral corruption and mismanagement, starting with pre-election purges that wiped thousands of black and brown voters from the records, to the mysterious disappearance of some ballots, to back-room chicanery among election officials working on recounts in counties where the tallies were close, to the final insult of having a Republican-majority Supreme Court declare Bush the winner and stop a recount that seemed likely to give the Florida victory (and thus the presidency) to Democrat Vice President Al Gore.
Similar bad behavior was going on in Missouri, Anderson reported, where the St. Louis Board of Elections had purged 50,000 names from the voter rolls, primarily in key Democrat-leaning precincts. At the same time, the election board failed to notify those whose names had been purged, though such notification was required by law, thereby ensuring that those voters would be turned away from the polling places on Election Day and giving Republican candidates an illegal edge toward victory.
Anderson maintains, and I agree, that the Republican Party learned some very devious lessons that year, and that the resultant Republican voter-suppression process has continued, virtually unhampered, through this year’s mid-term election.
To illustrate her argument, Anderson tells the tale of Korean War veteran Floyd Carrier of Texas, who in 2013 went to vote using his Department of Veterans Affairs ID card to obtain his ballot as he had done for the prior 50 years.
The problem for the 86-year-old Carrier was that Texas had recently passed new voter ID laws that required a “state-approved” ID with a photo. Carrier’s VA card did not have a picture, and he was not allowed to vote.
Anderson has other examples in her piece, and they all amount to the same thing — figuring out ways to keep certain people, mainly citizens of color, from voting has become the new sport of choice among Republican strategists. This has allowed them to overcome the true demographic realities of the U.S. today, in which people of color (blacks, Asians and Latinos) make up some 28 percent of the electorate, up from about 13 percent in the early 1990s, according to Anderson, and it is an accepted fact of electoral life that most of those voters favor Democrats.
Next, as if voter suppression weren’t enough, Republicans have cobbled together a fantastic but absolutely fabricated collection of tales alleging vast numbers of fraudulent voters on the Democrats side.
In numerous red states around the nation, Republican officials, office holders and candidates spin yarns of voter fraud by Democrats in order to stir up their “base” of ill-informed voters who unstintingly believe whatever Fox News and the Republican fantasy machine spin out at them.
And that, in fact, is the subject of the title of Anderson’s piece in the NYT — “The Voter Fraud Lie” — and the main thrust of the piece itself.
By claiming there has been massive voter fraud in the past, Republican strategists hope to convince enough Democrats that elections are a waste of time and to stay home and sit out the 2018 election in aggrieved, non-voting silence. If successful, as it was in 2016, this stratagem can allow the GOP, with its die-hard, unquestioning and fanatical base, to win the day again for their party.
But that base is not the majority of this country, and never will be. The only way this strategy can continue to succeed for the Republicans is if the rest of us simply shut our eyes, turn our backs and give up on the most important right we still retain — the right to vote.
Watch the electoral news in your state, be vigilant in combatting voter-suppression efforts, and above all, no matter what else you do, VOTE. The early balloting process will begin soon, and if those of us worried about the direction this country is headed in do not get out there and exercise our rightful franchise, we have no one but ourselves to blame.
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