If You Aren’t Working to Enforce the Voting Rights Act, You Aren’t Fighting Voter Suppression

Corey Booker and the Democrats just launched a campaign to pass the Anti-Voter Suppression Act. In their latest and most confusing attempt to address issues with voting and elections in the United States, the Democrats are building off of the lie largely promoted by reporters such as Ari Berman and Joy-Ann Reid, that Secretaries of State nationwide were bonded together in rejection of Kris Kobach and the Commission on Election Integrity. This deceptive argument claims that close to 90% of the SoS’s rejected Kobach’s request for a wide range of state voter information and were formally refusing to comply.

What these reporters and politicians intentionally failed to communicate to the public was that the overwhelming majority of these Secretaries of State administer Kris Kobach’s voter purging program, the Interstate Crosscheck System, and through this participation have already given Kobach much of the information he has requested. They additionally failed to report that even more states implement voter ID restrictions in their home states — restrictions which were largely updated and diffused by Kris Kobach himself.

So, while the Democrats and Secretaries of State nationwide might be united in a media and legislative campaign to optically counter voter suppression, they are not in any way making any effort whatsoever to re-enfranchise the 40–50 million voters that have been deprived the right to vote through Crosscheck, voter ID laws and the myriad of other voter suppression tactics employed by the GOP or Kris Kobach.

If these Secretaries of State were truly taking a stand against voter suppression, they would immediately withdrawal from the Crosscheck System and repeal all voter ID restrictions. Additionally, they would open more polling places in targeted communities and ensure ADA compliance and alternatives to in person voting.

Further, if they and the Democrats were truly interested in ending voter suppression, they would collectively focus their attention and resources on enforcing the Voting Rights Act. If the left was truly united to end voter suppression, they would stop providing a myriad of alternatives to enforcing the Voting Rights Act and start flooding the courts with cases geared at removing obstacles to voting and creating pathways to prison for those actively suppressing tens of millions of black, brown, indigenous, poor, and disabled voters.

Unfortunately, instead of using the federal courts and the laws designed to combat suppression, the Democrats, their media mouthpieces and larger middle-class resistance are creating a scarecrow movement that revolves around defunding Kris Kobach’s Commission on Election Integrity — but does absolutely nothing to re-enfranchise suppressed voters. Not. One. Thing.

The Wars for Voting Rights and their Enforcement

In order to pass 18 USC 241, 18 USC 242 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a Revolution, a Civil War, and a Civil Rights movement had to be waged against those tirelessly working in the streets and the courts to prevent anyone that isn’t white from voting. Millions of lives were lost in the battles to secure the right to vote and the legislation needed to enforce it, but these laws inexplicably remain unutilized by the left and its Democratic leadership.

The enforcement of federal legislation protecting the right to vote, though, is the only way to prevent both deprivation of rights and the re-emergence of both authoritarian and Confederate leadership.

The Constitution

For example, 18 USC 241 reads:

“If two or more persons conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or intimidate any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or because of his having so exercised the same; or If two or more persons go in disguise on the highway, or on the premises of another, with intent to prevent or hinder his free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege so secured — They shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both…”

And 18 USC 242 follows with:

“Whoever, under color of any law, statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom, willfully subjects any person in any State, Territory, Commonwealth, Possession, or District to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured or protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States, or to different punishments, pains, or penalties, on account of such person being an alien, or by reason of his color, or race, than are prescribed for the punishment of citizens, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both…”

These protections, though, were only guaranteed to white property owners. It took a Civil War and a Reconstruction Movement to pass the 15th Amendment and secure the right to vote for black men.

While slavery ended with the Civil War in 1865, and black Americans won the war for freedom and citizenship with the passage of the 13th and 14th Amendments, voting rights were largely left to the discretion of the states until 1870. During the period between the end of the Civil War and the passage of the 15th Amendment, the Confederacy launched a state and local attack on black civil rights, including voting rights, in efforts to “Redeem” the Confederacy.

Additionally, while the political war between the Confederates and the Union escalated, nationwide military violence transitioned into localized and organized militia-style attacks. During this period, lynching entered their golden era. The Ku Klux Klan and other white paramilitary organizations such as the White League and the Red Shirts, with the protection of law enforcement, waged localized campaigns of violence and intimidation against black citizens and their political representatives.

In 1870 and 1871 the federal government responded to the state and local counter launched by the Confederacy by passing the Enforcement Acts. These three acts were designed to halt rebellion, reassert the new national political chain of command and dismantle the KKK. Later recodified in 42 USC 1983, the third Enforcement Act, also known as the KKK Act, brought an onslaught of charges against KKK members which was reinforced by the federal will to prosecute and the appointment of predominantly black juries to ensure that targets would not only be tried, but they would also be convicted.

This Act was so effective in both letter and implementation that the KKK was disbanded in less than a year. These laws soon fell out of practice, though, and the Confederate Redemption quickly gained ground on the Union.

Black Codes and Jim Crow laws littered the political landscape. Prohibitions on reading and writing, literacy tests, and poll taxes were violently enforced to keep black citizens from voting. Efforts were taken to reinstitute slavery under different names. Vagrancy laws, for example, allowed poor black citizens to be arrested, fined, and sent to labor camps as methods of repaying these fines — effectively reinstituting slavery under the guise of criminal justice. And by 1870, the federal government had to take legislative action in efforts to secure voting rights for black men nationwide.

The 15th Amendment

That year, five years after the end of the Civil War, the Union took voting rights out of states hands and enfranchised black men nationwide with the passage of the 15th Amendment which reads:

“Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude —

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation”.

While Black males nationwide were able to secure the right to vote on paper, the Confederate States were still largely allowed to suppress the black vote without tangible consequence. Even though the Enforcement Acts were in place, the enforcement process had ceased.

As a devastating result of the Union’s failure to enforce the right for black men to vote, by the time of the 1876 presidential election, only 3 states were considered “unredeemed.” And the South, after only 7 years from the time Black men were granted the right to vote and just 12 years past the end of the Civil War, was poised to take control of the white house — without force.

In an election, eerily similar to the Presidential Election of 2016, the 1876 election resulted in one candidate winning the popular vote and the other candidate winning the Electoral College. In this case, though, it was the Union candidate (Rutherford B. Hayes) that won the electoral college and the Confederate candidate (Samuel J. Tilden) that won the popular vote.

With the White House in reach of the Confederacy once again, the final outcome was negotiated through the 1877 Compromise.

This informal compromise, the Confederates agreed to allowing the Union to maintain control of the White House under the condition that all federal troops be pulled out of the Confederate States. And in one fell swoop, the Reconstruction ended, and with it attempts by the Union to use federal authority to protect the rights and lives of black citizens.

It wasn’t until 1965, 100 years after the end of the Civil War and 95 years after the enfranchisement of black men, that deprivation of voting rights would be addressed again at the federal level.

In the years between, a number of voting expansion efforts would lead to the enfranchisement of women 50 years later in 1920. Legal barriers to indigenous voting rights were federally removed in 1947. And men and women of Asian descent were granted citizenship and the right to vote in 1952.

While more non-white communities won the right to vote at the federal level, this right was not still not being enforced at this same level of authority. And the Conservatives that carried on the Confederate legacy continued to use state and local authority to disenfranchise these voters.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965

Resistance to the often violent efforts to deprive people of color their civil rights took a pivotal shift with the passage successes of Brown vs Board of Education of Topeka (1954) and the desegregation of the public school system. After a decade of relentless political reform efforts in the face of brutal social, political, and economic violence and trauma, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Building off the success of these efforts, strategists and organizers began mobilizing to end the disenfranchisement of black voters.

In 1963, the Dallas County Voters’ League (SCVL) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) began focusing organizational and education efforts supporting the Voting Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama. In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) were invited to Selma to join the movement. After 10 years of organizing for rights following Brown and 2 years of organizing, education and action in Selma and the murders of many civil and voting rights activists — an organized three part 57 mile march from Selma to Montgomery became the focal point of the Voting Rights Movement.

The federal legislation demanded by these organized and relentless activists would finally come into existence that summer with the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

And while it is true that the GOP dealt a huge blow to the Act when the successfully neutralized Section 5 through the Supreme Court, this section is in no way responsible for the prosecution of those engaging in deprivation of rights. The sections that were designed to stop voter suppression are Sections 2 and 11. These sections remain perfectly intact.

Section 11 of the Voting Rights Act reads:

“No person acting under color of law shall fail or refuse Prohibitions to permit any person to vote who is entitled to vote under any provision of this Act or is otherwise qualified to vote, or willfully fail or refuse to tabulate, count, and report such person’s vote”

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act also specifies:

“No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”

Deprivation of Rights and Re-enfranchisement Today

In theory, those that conspired to suppressed tens of millions of votes through the Interstate Crosscheck System, Voter ID laws, targeted polling closures, felony disenfranchisement, and ADA violations could be charged for criminal deprivation of rights under 18 USC 241, 18 USC 242 and Sections 2 & 11 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In theory.

In practice, though, the enforcement of federal legislation is strategically more complicated. For example, while the Democrats could have enforced any and all of these pieces of legislation to prevent the disenfranchisement of 40–50 million plus black, brown, indigenous, disabled and poor voters before the 2016 election when they were still in control of the Department of Justice — they chose not to. (To learn more about the SIIP’s post-election efforts to encourage Loretta Lynch and the Department of Justice to halt the transfer of power and enforce 18 USC 241 and 241, click here.)

But now, enforcing voting rights through 18 USC 241, 1 USC 242 and the Department of Justice is no longer an option. As reported by SIIP:

“…prosecution for violations of these laws fall under the authority of the US Attorney General and the Department of Justice. With Jeff Sessions in control, there is little to no chance the DoJ would investigate, let alone prosecute, the GOP for deprivation of rights.”

However, the federal district and circuit courts are still in play. And so, the Democratic party can, and absolutely should, counter voter suppression efforts in the federal court system by bringing legal challenges under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

More specifically, the Voting Rights Act should be aggressively applied in the lower federal courts to counter the Interstate Crosscheck System, Voter ID laws, polling place closures and many other methods of voter suppression nationwide.

The VRA can also be used to bring criminal charges against members of the GOP like Kris Kobach.

Rather than doing the one thing that needs to be done to enforce Voting Rights nationwide and re-enfranchising the 40–50 million voters that have been deprived their Constitutional right to vote, the left has done almost everything in the name of voting rights EXCEPT enforce them through the Voting Rights Act.

Federal efforts promoted by the left currently include actions to promote the registration of unsuppressed voters and prevent Russian election hacking, gerrymandering, and most currently the decoy battlefield that is the effort to block state participation with the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. This latter effort is the most empty gesture of all.

It cannot be overemphasized that not one voter will be re-enfranchised by the “Anti-voter suppression Act.” Not one policy that suppresses voters will be repealed. Not one person responsible for the criminal deprivation of rights of tens of millions of people will be charged or convicted. Not one step will be made towards ending voter suppression at the state level, or nationwide.

This is what makes the Democrats’ new push to pass the “Anti-Voter Suppression Act” so confusing at best, and at worst a surface level attempt to coopt the real resistance to voter suppression and replace it with a decoy battle against the Commission on Election Integrity.

The name of the proposed legislation implies that it would be used to end voter suppression; however, the goal of the act has nothing to do with countering deprivation of voting rights. It is only designed to defund Kobach’s Commission on Election Integrity. There is no component designed to actually counter existing voter suppression.

But then again, there isn’t a need for new legislation because an anti-voter suppression act already exists. It’s called the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

The VRA, though, can’t work unless it is enforced. And it won’t be enforced until we as a people demand that the end goal of anti-suppression efforts be re-enfranchisement, and the pathway to achieving that goal is the enforcement of the VRA and nothing less.

Yes, issues that concern those able to vote should be addressed. Russian interference, gerrymandering, and the GOP’s attempts to streamline their suppression efforts should be addressed. But no single issue is more important than the re-enfranchisement of 40–50 million voters of color, voters living with disabilities and poor voters.

No single strategic effort has had a more damaging effect on our elections than deprivation of voting rights, and no counter short of enforcing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 will be able to stop it.

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SIIP is dedicated to designing strategies to counter political obstacles faced by the most brutally targeted communities in the United States

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SIIP is dedicated to designing strategies to counter political obstacles faced by the most brutally targeted communities in the United States