The most dramatic assault on voting rights in the United States since the end of Reconstruction is currently underway. The problem is that there seems to be little to no national outrage about it.
In state after state, Republican-led legislatures are passing restrictive voter identification laws along with plans to require people to show proof of citizenship documents when they go to cast their ballots. These laws are being passed and enacted with a speed and ease that is nothing short of breathtaking.
At the core of the passion for these restrictive laws is a hysterical reaction by some to the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States in 2008. The very idea of this Black man at the helm of the most powerful nation on earth was a concept so utterly repugnant that any and every effort had to be unleashed to ensure that such a travesty would never again occur.
So the effort began before the 2012 election to diminish the voting strength of the very citizens who were most likely to vote Democratic and, more specifically, for Obama. But the fear among conservative Republicans extends beyond seeing Obama as president—although that has been cause for disruption of any semblance of governing.
Their overarching fear is based on their view of what the United States may become with a voting base that is progressively African-American, Latino, Asian and, by most reckonings, increasingly Democratic. Something had to be done, they reasoned. So the response was to undertake a movement steeped in the most undemocratic of ideals: restricting the vote of wholesale communities based on who those voters are likely to support. That was made evident when Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai acknowledged in a 2012 speech to his Republican colleagues that the state’s voter ID law was designed to help Mitt Romney win the election in Pennsylvania.
“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done,” a boasting Turzai ticked off. “First pro-life legislation—abortion facility regulations—in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
More savvy Republicans are far more tight-lipped about revealing the true purpose of their assault on voting. They suggest that they are motivated by a desire to see the nagging problem of voter fraud stamped out. The only problem is that none of them seem able to produce any solid evidence of voter fraud to any significant degree.
Yet the assault on voting rights is moving forward. Alabama says it plans to continue with its misguided requirement for voters to produce concrete proof of citizenship, mirroring similar actions in Arizona and Kansas. Meanwhile, there is a right-wing move to remove from the Voting Rights Act anything that would retain its effectiveness.
It’s time for progressive voices to get outraged by what’s now occurring around the country. It’s not enough to be angry and to speak about these initiatives derisively. It’s time to organize—much in the manner of the Moral Monday protests in North Carolina—and to allow that outrage to be the fuel that carries people to make significant change at ballot boxes across American this fall. That would send a firm and unmistakable message that voting rights are not to be tampered with for partisan gain.