September 1, 2016
By Robert Jedrzejewski
“O TEMPORA ! O MORES ! (O the times and customs),” lamented Marcus Tullius Cicero, a Roman Consul in his oration against Catiline in 63.B.C.
Lost in the ear-splitting rhetoric of the two national political conventions and current raucous campaigning has been the virtual silence on the most important political issue of our day: voter suppression. One can understand how the fractious Republican party gaily proceeded to nominate for president a fascistic bully without mentioning it. But it nears incomprehensibility how the Democrats could overlook this as a cardinal campaign issue in this most important election – since voting restrictions follow Republican party lines. After the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, eighteen states with new restrictions passed them through entirely Republican-controlled bodies.
Text it! Tweet it! Shout it from the rooftops! Voter suppression is the consummate political evil that can beset a democracy – and an evil it is. Why? In a representative democracy the right to vote is one bed-rock principle, perhaps the only bed-rock principle, without which a democracy cannot exist. Voter suppression takes many forms; to name a few:
- voter registration inhibitions; this is the single greatest barrier to voting
- restricting early voting and voting hours
- draconian voter ID laws (e.g. in Texas concealed-carry gun permits are acceptable but state-issued student IDs are not)
- eliminating Sunday voting (affecting mainly Afro-American communities and their “souls to the polls” efforts to encourage and facilitatei involvement)
- reducing polling places resulting in long lines and excessive waiting hours (Arizona eliminated 140 of its 200 polling places resulting in mile-long lines of voters having to wait up to seven hours to cast a ballot).
Some of the most egregious examples of voter suppression can be found in Florida, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Ohio and West Virginia. Recall also that Mike Turzai, then Republican House Majority Leader, led a similar attempt in Pennsylvania in 2012. With typical arrogance and disenfranchisement braggadocio he crowed: “…(our voter ID law ) …is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the State of Pennsylvania. Done!” As reported in The American Prospect “The number and complexity of new voting restrictions are staggering. As Yale Law Professor Heather Gerken put it , “It’s death-by-a-thousand cuts strategy.”
Truly, voter suppression is a form of civic homicide. It disappears a voter. Very likely a minority, a poor person without any power or opportunity to influence social change, or to have a say in the way he/she is treated by the government, except by casting a ballot. Vile is the politician that takes that right away. He is killing democracy. The motivation behind it all is a devilish effort of purging the electorate; that is tantamount to a tyrant’s declaring “free elections” where his is the sole name on the ballot.
Echoing their standard-bearer, Donald Trump, who stated “…This voting system is out of control. You have people…that are voting many, many times” – Republicans claim “voter fraud” as their justification for the myriad attempts at killing opposition votes. This is so patently absurd that Ari Berman, senior contributing writer for The Nation, in a recent interview with Amy Goodman averred, “since 2000, there have been a billion votes cast and only 31 cases of voter impersonation… you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to impersonate another voter.”
Think about it! Of all the important issues being debated, analyzed and wrestled over in this most noisy and volatile year of electioneering – including immigration, gun control, taxation, global warming, supreme court appointees, etc., etc. etc. —none, not one of these can begin to be resolved equitably absent the collective wisdom of the citizens of a democracy if they are denied a voice. Their vote is their voice.
While recent federal court decisions in July have struck down (e.g. North Carolina) or softened (e.g. Texas and Wisconsin) voting restrictions, they are still being appealed and are still in effect in many states. Lest one think this is a small problem, unworthy of much concern, Ari Berman went on to say in the interview referenced above: “…we still have millions (sic) of voters that are impacted by new voting restrictions.” This is the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. To be greeted by the Democrats’ virtual silence on this issue is, to me, excruciating. O Tempora! O Mores!
Robert Jedrzejewski is a member and volunteer of the Thomas Merton Center