The Republicans’ Shameless War on Voting

Posted in: Civil Rights

There is absolutely no question that Republicans are trying to suppress non-whites from voting, throughout the Southern states, in an effort that has been accelerating since 2010.  It is not difficult to catalogue this abusive Republican mission, which unfortunately has spread, in a few instances, to states above the Mason-Dixon Line as well.

Nor is there any doubt whatsoever about why Republicans are doing this, since the demographics of the states where it is happening suggest that it is becoming increasingly difficult for white descendants of the Confederacy, with their puppet conservative politicians, and for conservatives in general, to retain control of government.

Frankly, I find this voter suppression disgusting.  Southern conservatives, who now control the GOP, have succeeded in destroying the party of Abraham Lincoln, with its once long and proud tradition of seeking to extend the voting franchise, not restrict it.

Suppressing Non-White Southern Voters

Documentation of the Republican attack on non-white and minority voters is depressingly vast and complete.  Here are just a few of the reports that I have found informative, since my writing about the GOP’s gaming the vote last October.  From the damning November 11, 2011 report from the Democratic National Committee’s Institute for Voting, entitled Reversal Of Progress, to the more recent reports like The Atlantic’s “New Voting Laws: Bending the Arc of History Away From Justice,” and the ACLU’s reports on voter suppression, the story is the same.  GOP-controlled state governments have adopted measures that restrict voting, with non-whites and minorities always bearing the brunt.

The effort started in the last few years (2006 to 2008) of the Bush II Department of Justice, when Bush’s political appointees tried to force U.S. Attorneys throughout the country, but particularly in the South, to prosecute voter-fraud cases.  However, the Administration had a fundamental problem: There was no evidence of voter fraud.  But this did not end the effort.  After Republicans won control of twenty-one states (occupying both the legislature and the governor’s office) in 2010, they began—in the name of preventing nonexistent voter fraud—enacting legislation to restrict voting.

More specifically, they adopted laws that fell into the following areas: they cut early voting, eliminated registration on Election Day, created voting challenges that could be made by one’s fellow citizens, and required photo identification for voting. And even now, they are still making efforts to change the Electoral College.  As Ari Berman writes in his piece for The Nation, “Voter Suppression: The Confederacy Rises Again,” these efforts have been particularly focused in the South, where they are clearly intended to block non-whites from voting.

Using the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, the U.S. Department of Justice has blocked many of these efforts to suppress the vote—most recently, in Texas and Florida.  But efforts to block these voter-suppression laws at the state level have been mixed, with Republican judges often refusing to block these unconstitutional efforts to impede voting.  While this situation has dominated in the South, a few Republicans in the North are now playing the game as well.

For example, a politically-ambitious Republican Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge, Robert Simpson, refused to enjoin a new Pennsylvania voting law, finding a technical reason to let it go into effect, notwithstanding there being no showing of potential fraud, but rather a clear showing of likely voter suppression among minorities in big cities, if the bill were to survive judicial review.

What is striking about this radical and regressive behavior is that Republicans were once champions of increasing, and spreading, the vote.  But that, of course, was before the Southern conservatives took effective control of the GOP.

Repudiating Republican History 

From the election of President Abraham Lincoln until that of President Ronald Reagan, Republican Presidents had been leaders in, and the Republican Party had been highly supportive of, all efforts to empower voters.  Before Reagan, I am not aware of any widespread thinking that would have even tolerated the idea of intentionally disenfranchising voters.  Citing a few examples, from the 1920s to the 1970s, of which I have personal knowledge or involvement will broadly make my point.

President Warren G. Harding. When writing a biography of Warren G. Harding, I was surprised to find that, in the early 1920s, he actively considered how to create a two-party South that would include blacks in the Republican Party.  By the 1920s, Lincoln and the post-Civil War Reconstruction era had driven most whites in the South into the Democratic Party, where they remained until they were wooed in large numbers with radical GOP policies in the 1980s.

Harding’s predecessor, President Woodrow Wilson, had grown up in the South and never overcame the racism he learned there.  Indeed, Wilson actively discriminated against blacks as President, blatantly removing them from any and all positions that he controlled within the federal government.

On October 26, 1921, President Harding launched his delicate initiative to bring Southern blacks into the GOP by traveling to Birmingham, Alabama, where a large—albeit segregated—audience had been assembled to hear him.  As I wrote in my Harding biography, it was a “bold and atypical in-your-face move by Harding toward Democratic office-holders in the South,” not to mention a “daring and controversial speech” at the time it was delivered.

Harding told his audience that it was time for political and economic equality of the races, and he made very clear what he meant by political equality: “I would say let the black man vote when he is fit to vote; prohibit the white man voting when he is unfit to vote.”  Citing the New York News, I reported that the white audience sat in stony silence, as Harding “squared his jaw and pointed straight at the white section” and declared, “Whether you like it or not, unless our democracy is a lie you must stand for that equality.”

Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. GOP President Dwight Eisenhower announced his support, in a 1954 State of the Union address, for eighteen-year-olds to be given the vote.  While the idea was not voted against, nothing serious developed.

By 1970, the Nixon Administration, acting through yours truly—who was then the Associate Deputy Attorney General for Legislation—informed Congress, quietly and off-the-record because there were serious potential Constitutional issues, that the president would not veto an extension of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that included a provision requiring a voting age of eighteen for all local, state and federal elections.

Congress then passed the law and, in June 1970, President Nixon signed it.  The law was quickly challenged by Texas and Oregon, and by December 1970, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Oregon v. Mitchell that while Congress could set the qualifications for voting for federal elections, it could not do so for state or local elections.

Young people, many of whom were fighting in Vietnam, were not happy.  Thousands let Congress know of their displeasure. By March 10, 1971, the Senate voted 94-to-0 for a Constitutional Amendment to enfranchise those who were eighteen years of age and older. Within two weeks, the House of Representatives voted 401-to-19 for the Amendment; and within four months, the requisite three-fourths of the state legislatures had adopted it.  It was the fastest that any amendment to the Constitution had ever been adopted.

On the afternoon of July 6, 1971, I happened to be going to the East Wing of the White House and I could hear singing floating into the hallway. It was a truly magnificent rendition, by young voices, of  “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” I was drawn by the sound into the East Room, where I discovered that the President was hosting a certification ceremony for the adoption of the 26th Amendment, attended by young people—some 500 boys and girls of the Young Americans In Concert choir.

Although a president has no formal role in the Constitutional amendment process, other than modern presidents’ tradition of being witnesses to the certification, Nixon was clearly showing his support for young people to vote, with the ceremony.  A few days later, I received a message from the president.  He wanted all of his younger aides to think of ways to get young people to vote.  Today, I seriously doubt that a President Romney would encourage young people to vote, since they have overwhelmingly become Democrats, or progressive independents.  Any initiative to reach the young now would only be likely to deny a hypothetical President Romney a second term.

Be Thankful for the Voting Rights Act of 1965

While I was serving as Minority Counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, landmark Voting Rights legislation was making its way through Congress.  Its purpose was to implement the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which was adopted following the Civil War, and which states that the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged . . . on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Remarkably, almost a century had passed since the 15th Amendment’s adoption in 1870, yet States of the Confederacy had, for almost a century, schemed to deny people of color the right to vote. Using strict voter-eligibility requirements, like literacy tests and poll taxes, the infamous Jim Crow laws were also accompanied by tactics of violence and intimidation, and thus they enabled whites in the South to keep blacks from voting.  In addition, many Southern states used the centennial census-based redistricting as an opportunity to draw congressional (as well as state legislative) district lines in a manner that would maximize white power.  All these tactics would be outlawed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA).

As I was from the North, it was at this time that I first understood racism, from witnessing its most subtle as well as its most ugly and overt forms. President Lyndon Johnson had pushed for and obtained the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964 by breaking the Senate filibuster by Southern Senators. Without strong Republican support, the Civil Right Act of 1964 could not have passed, nor could the VRA. Every Republican I knew in the House of Representatives, in varying degrees – a group of over a hundred members—believed voting to be a basic human right, and believed, as well, that the consent of the governed is the core of our democracy.

Final passage of the VRA had 30 of 31 Republican Senators joining 49 Democrats in voting in favor, with the only GOP holdout being former South Carolina Democrat Strom Thurmond, a longtime open racist who started the movement of conservative Southern politicians to the Republican Party.  In the House, 111 of 131 Republicans joined 217 Democrats to pass the VRA.  The 20 GOP members who refused to vote for it were conservatives, most all of them from border states.

As Southerners moved into the GOP, opposition to the VRA grew.  To keep the VRA viable and alive, it was amended in 1970, 1975, 1982, 1992, and, most recently, in 2006—with that last amendment giving the law further life for twenty-five years, or until 2031.  To make the story of this law very short, since the 1980s Republicans have increasingly tried to weaken it, and while it survived GOP attacks in 2006, I seriously doubt that the VRA would pass either the House or Senate today.  Republicans would kill it.

We should be thankful that the VRA passed earlier in our history, because it has been among the most effective tools in preventing and controlling the new GOP voter-suppression abuses.  If anyone thinks that the 2012 election cycle, and the reelection of America’s first black president, are not about race and our racist roots, which have surfaced, once again, during the first term of the Obama Administration, he or she needs to wake up and smell the rot that is created by frightened white people preventing people of color from voting.  It stinks.

28 responses to “The Republicans’ Shameless War on Voting”

  1. shanen says:

    Comments often fail, but I’ll just try to note that I believe democracy is superior when everyone feels they have at least a roughly equal share in the success of the nation, even if their own candidates didn’t win the last election. America is headed to the kind of hopeless indifference of most people that finally broke the Soviet Union. More and more Americans just don’t know and don’t care.

  2. R Jefferis says:

    Mr Dean, as an observer from afar (New Zealand ) of the US for a long time your article is of great import. Put simply without the concept of an effective voting rights act the reality is your vaunted democracy is a feeble pretence. AFTER the disenfranchement of the blacks in the the south no prize for guessing the next victims…Hispanics.
    And next?
    R M Jefferis
    New Zealand

  3. what kind of mind altering substance are you on?? whatever it is it should be banned,or is it a mental disorder??whatever the case may be,seek help immediately

  4. SisyphusRolls says:

    This partisan screed is so factually wrong, it seems deliberate. In just the 2008 Minnesota general election, there have already been 117 voter fraud convictions, with another 68 awaiting trial. That is just short of the difference in votes between (now Senator) Franken and his opponent. But most voter fraud in that election probably went undetected, and only a fraction of what was detected as possible voter fraud was charged. Our voting systems make fraud relatively easy and hard to detect, but sometimes it does get detected if it is blatant enough.

    Here’s a story about a state representative in Arkansas who just plead guilty to voter fraud:
    In other states, literally tens of thousands of dead people are still on the voter rolls (e.g. Florida and North Carolina), and some of them have votes recorded after they were deceased. Thousands of others are still voting despite purportedly being more than 110 years old (which would make them among the oldest people in the world – there are fewer than a thousand people known to be that old in the world).

    Nor is it strictly a Democrat-led phenomenon. Rep. Thad McCotter (R – MI) isn’t returning to Congress because of signature fraud on his petitions:

    Meanwhile, the Supreme Court’s case approving of Indiana’s voter ID law noted there were no credible instances of eligible voters being denied a vote under Indiana’s voter ID law. Other states might have worse laws that might generate problems, and they should amend them to improve access, but it doesn’t mean they are racist, because the problem of voter fraud is very real.
    If fears of access are the problem, let’s compromise to both improve access and ensure voters are entitled to vote through voter ID and other measures. The Baker-Carter Commission called for exactly that, and we need only follow their recommendations or something like them to improve both the security of, and access to, the ballot box.

    • Eleanor says:

      Hoosier talking about Indiana Law for voter ID. There were 3 of us senior (ols) ladies who went together to vote. We all proudly showed our IDS. 2 with driverlicenses and the other with state picture ID. She has had that ID since she was 65 and she is now 83, someone in family saw that she got to BMV to renew it. She is on a walker, but managed to do it anyway. What is other’s excuse???

  5. mozartfx says:

    No wonder Nixon was run out of office. This guy’s either a dope or the most gullible man on the face of the earth. Can you imagine taking advice from this nincowpoop. Whatta gull-a-bull. (As Bugs Bunny would say) Here’s my impression of John W. Dean, “Hey, see, I’m not racist! Did you see the piece I wrote? It proves I’m not racist! See, see, I pointed my finger at white people and called them racists! I’m one of the good ones!” What a coward. No one wants to stop blacks from voting John. We just don’t want them (or anyone else) voting more than once. And how dare you call ANYONE racist you Watergate loser!

  6. wilson says:

    You have got to be kidding. Requiring formal identification is a restriction. You can’t drive, you can’t use food stamps, you can’t fly, you can’t do anything without an ID. How do you consider it restrictive to verify that the person is who they claim to be. Obviously the Holder DOJ is not going to investigate any voting issues from the last election. Seems we forgot about the thugs hanging out at polling locations, buses picking up unidentified voters, etc. You guys are so broken it is incredible. No wonder our great country has gone to hell.

    • Terry Stephens says:

      many people don’t drive. many people are not on food stamps. many people don’t fly. contrary to your close-minded thinking, you can do a lot without the required voter id.

      • Eleanor says:

        But since it is required, you can get it free at BMV offices in my state of In. If you cannot prove who you are,don’t expect to vote. I think there should be a timeline to regiater, not just show up at the poles, register and vote. If the President of the USA had to show his license(picture ID) to vote, what is wrong with John Q. Public having to show it. Why is it against the minorities???They manage to get to the stores for groceries, supplies, meds, dr appts, etc and a lot of them manage to buy their beer and cigarettes, but can’t get a voter ID???? Any old excuse…Race Card at its best,

  7. eldosgatos says:

    Thank you Mr. Dean.
    I appreciate the history lesson.
    To many of us, this tactic of voter suppression is so obviously rooted in this nations long history of racial bias/hate. We can hope that our young people, having been exposed to an increased diversity of people will see this for the grave injustice that it is. This is why it is always a bad idea to put any civil rights issues up to a ballot vote as there are those who would deny others civil rights.
    We know what it means when members of the GOP start invoking “states rights”.
    The GOP has become exclusive rather than inclusive. Perhaps they will go the way of the Whigs. I long for that “Liberal”, President Richard Nixon.

  8. Iris says:

    Thank you John Dean!

  9. Paul Jacobs says:

    Important historical perspective.

  10. bamacharm says:

    Demogoguery. There is voter fraud and it plays to the Democrat’s advantage. In the recent elections, voter turnout in Uniontown, AL was 125% of registered voters. That story was covered by
    Picture IDs are required to board aircraft, cash checks, operate a vehicle, etc. The poor do all these things. The only reason to oppose voter ID is that the status quo works to your advantage.

    • Terry Stephens says:

      Many people don’t do those things. Also, there is more going on besides requiring photo id. There is also eliminating early voting and canceling voter registration on election day. What’s your excuse for these?

  11. jimmy jo meeker says:

    The only difference between a Hippie and a Racist Red Neck is a hair cut,

  12. Ken Presting says:

    Readers, and Mr. Dean, may want to review the House Justice Committee study of the 2004 Ohio Presidential election which allowed GW Bush to defeat John Kerry. I have not been able to find the report at the House website, but here is an external link:
    My own growing fear is that the current publicity over voter ID laws may be only a smokescreen for more concerted efforts to manipulate the election by officials themselves. It is well known that voting fraud by individuals is insignificant. Nate Silver has also argued in the NY Times that voter ID laws may not be significant either.
    But there is no doubt that election fraud directed by officials can swing tens of thousands of votes. The House report is very detailed and thoroughly damning. Wholesale fraud is very real and alive in Ohio.

  13. George Boone says:

    Please comment on the fact that the Democratic National Committee’s convention committee required the presentation of a photo ID in order to enter the convention to vote on a Democratic platform that banned the use of photo IDs. Also the Missouri Acorn case where with funding from the DNC they committed voter fraud in 2008 which allowed over 15,000 fraudulent votes to be cast.
    If you go west on I-70 from Kansas City to Denver you will pass numerous cattle feeding operations which are in sight of I-70; citing Democratic National Committee’s Institute for Voting, Reversal Of Progress, The Atlantic’s “New Voting Laws: Bending the Arc of History Away From Justice,” and the ACLU’s reports on voter suppression is similar to collecting what is found on the ground in these cattle feeding operations.

  14. I can always depend upon Justia to publish the latest tripe about those dastardly Republicans. After all, the Black Panthers are GOP, right?

    • Eleanor says:

      Sure they are!!!! What would happen if a White Tiger group was formed??Or we had a White History Month, a White College, or a JFK Day?????We would be racist. Where is the fairness?????There ain’t none!!!!

  15. thesafesurfer says:

    Elections lose their credibility when fraud is suspected. The author does not give this consideration its proper weight. If Mr. Dean is correct then we can expect a wave of lawsuits by legitimate voters with proof that they were denied the vote. As a lawyer John knows you need evidence and his article is speculative and in my opinion inflammatory. In other words not a convincing argument.

  16. Smart Enough to know better says:

    What a joke this guy is!

  17. Lannie Hart says:

    Paranoid. Enabler of the Left.

  18. John Rowse says:

    Asking for an ID should not be a problem for anyone who is legitimate. States like Florida have the right to purge dead voters, illegal aliens and those convicted of felonies from the voter registration lists. Democrats want to replace the current electorate with Hispanic invaders from third world cesspools like Mexico. Traitors like Eric Holder see every illegal alien invader as another vote for Democrats…that’s why the Obama administration opposes any state laws that try to repel the Mexican drug dealers invasion forces.

    • Terry Stephens says:

      It would be a problem for legal voters who do not possess the required id. There are more people who can vote legally, but they don’t have the required id, than their are illegal voters. Put yourself in the shoes of others, if you can.

  19. johngalt30 says:

    I always hear democrats complaining about these laws supposed discriminatory essence and that voter fraud doesn’t happen. A woman who was running for the US Senate in Maryland dropped out because she had voted in MD and FL in the last few elections. Just because people aren’t being thrown in jail in droves doesn’t mean the problem is non- existent.

    • Terry Stephens says:

      I don’t believe anyone would deny that voter fraud is non-existent. Nothing is 100% perfect. Does a few voter fraud cases mean that tens of thousands have to be discouraged or denied the right to vote? How is that fair?

  20. Anita Gravelle says:

    Please explain to me if you will, how the idea of being against identification for exercising your right to vote reconciles with the idea of being for identification and background checks to exercise your right to bear arms. Would not the same people who are hindered, or burdened if you will, in the voting process by the necessity of needing an ID be equally hindered from exercising their right to bear arms by an extension of this same logic?