Thursday, June 16, 2011
Stephen Jones: Carry on the Fight for Voting Rights
This is a post by contributing writer, Stephen Jones, of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
A few hours after President John F. Kennedy called on Congress to pass comprehensive Civil Rights legislation in 1963, Medgar Evers, the field secretary of the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP, was gunned down outside his home in Jackson, that state's capital city, the victim of a racist assassin. Evers died with his pockets filled with voter registration applications, soaked with the fallen civil rights leader's blood. A combat veteran who fought in France and Germany during World War II, Medgar Evers was buried a few days after he was murdered, on June 19, 1963, forty-eight years ago this coming Sunday, with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C.
In 1963 Medgar Evers paid the ultimate price for demanding the fundamental right guaranteed every citizen, everywhere; the right to register and vote. Today, less than half a century later, that basic democratic right of all citizens, eighteen years of age and older, under law, is under attack once again, here in New Mexico and across the United States. From the proposed legislation that would require voters to produce photo identification at the polls that is cropping up in many states across the country, including our own, to the proposal by Wisconsin's extremist governor, Scott Walker, to strip college students of their right to the ballot box, attempts to disenfranchise average Americans has reached a level that hasn't been seen since Medgar Evers' time.
A GOP Pattern of Minority Voter Suppression
Newt Gingrich, a Republican aspirant for the White House and a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, has shamefully called for the return of poll tests, a practice made illegal by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Due to historical patterns of illegal voter suppression in the Jim Crow era, including phony "literacy" and other so-called ballot access tests, the 1965 landmark legislation outlawed such practices, nationally. Two of our neighboring states, Texas and Arizona, remain under special provisions of the Voting Rights Act that require those states to "pre-clear" any state legislative attempt to change "any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure with respect to voting" by the Federal Justice Department and a three-judge panel of the District Court of the District of Columbia.
Only a few years ago, under the cynical and corrupt leadership of Karl Rove and others, the GOP sought to politicize U.S. Attorney's offices in a number of states, including in New Mexico, alleging that those federal attorneys were failing to bring prosecutions over a pattern of "voter fraud" that didn't exist. The Rove assault was a brazen attempt to specifically suppress the votes of Hispanic and African American citizens.
Despite Rove's departure, the GOP continues to engage in an ongoing pattern of voter suppression and intimidation, resulting in numerous prosecutions of local Republican leaders around the nation for their attacks on citizenship rights. Notoriously in Florida, African American voters were denied their right to vote when GOP officials wrongly, and illegally, challenged voters off the registration rolls as "former felons." The criminal challenges were made not on evidence -- no such evidence existed -- but rather by broadly cherry-picking voters off the rolls through the use of computer modeling, targeting specific classes of voters by neighborhood demographics, by age and by ethnic surname.
Duran, Martinez Try Suppression
Attempting to pass a voter suppression bill in the New Mexico Legislature earlier this year, New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran and Governor Susana Martinez claimed evidence of thirty-seven illegal voter registrations. Evidence to back up the claim vanished when the bill died in the legislature. Undeterred, Duran has subsequently flagged 64,000 New Mexicans, more than five percent of our registered voters and over ten percent of the citizens who cast votes in last year's general election, to be "investigated" by state police.
Remember Sacrifices, Fight Back
The right of citizens to register and vote is sacrosanct. Voter suppression and intimidation is un-American. Efforts to return to a time when many of us were stripped of our central right to engage in democratic decision-making must be turned back, and we all need to be alert to the present danger. We need to act to protect that fundamental right which belongs to all of us. Forty-eight years after Medgar Evers was laid to rest for standing up for that basic right of citizenship, the right to vote, we need to remember the sacrifices of those who worked and sacrificed to guarantee access to the ballot and the voting booth, and carry on their fight.
To see more posts by Stephen, visit our archive.
What we really need is a 'candidate test' like the Intercollegiate Studies Institute "Full Civic Literacy Exam." Everyone who wants to run for public office for anything higher than dogcatcher should be required to get 75% or above on it. Americans averaged about 49%, which was higher than the average elected politician.
To try it yourself and to see how politicians scored on each question, click on the link below:
Posted by: Ellen Wedum | Jun 16, 2011 8:01:17 AM
As an election judge, I participated in a survey that the Bernalillo County Clerk's office cooperated on with UNM Poli Sci prof, Lonna Atkisson (hopefully spelled correctly.)
The sense of this survey seemed to me to be a defensive manuever to protect the administration of voting against an onslaught of complaints by conservatives that there is a lot of voter fraud going on. The administration of the system is under attack on the basis that the computer programming behind maintenance of the voter rolls is biases in favor of keeping illegal immigrants on record to they can add to the vote total for Democrats.
Voting support by various groups to ensure that people can be facilitated in getting to the polls are being accused of illegal activity. This actually does intimidate some people and thus, has an effect on suppressing the vote.
I was a little alarmed about this survey because it probed for attitudes about voter fraud but seemed very dismissive about the civil rights tradition as being a significant issue or factor.
Again, I think that is because there is an aggressive push being made by the Tea Party and right wing Republicans to define the issue in terms of voter fraud.
I have a problem with that. For one thing, I used to work with people in Texas who were among those who fought for voting rights. It was not that long ago. I rode in a pickup truck in 1981 that had been firebombed in Austin, Tx - a comparatively progressive city.
Having tried through the campaign season last year to raise this issue, my impression is that the number of people in New Mexico who are "hair on fire" over the voting rights issue is pretty low. I am not sure how to account for that, except that the real fights over this issue have historically been elsewhere.
Those who are pushing the false issue of voter fraud, especially when it is really about brown immigrants, seem to have the energy.
That doesn't make me feel very comfortable about the future of the voting rights issue in this state.
I hope to find evidence that suggests that I have gained the wrong initial impressions.
Posted by: Stuart Heady | Jun 16, 2011 11:47:43 AM
By the way, Stephen Jones, thanks for writing these blog posts. Considering the low state of the general media, citizens concerned at all about public education and the quality of political debate really have to take on the effort to "Be The Media." These posts are wonderful examples. More people really ought to venture onto this ice.
Posted by: Stuart Heady | Jun 16, 2011 11:57:52 AM
"Duran, Martinez Try Suppression
Attempting to pass a voter suppression bill in the New Mexico Legislature earlier this year, New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran and Governor Susana Martinez claimed evidence of thirty-seven illegal voter registrations. Evidence to back up the claim vanished when the bill died in the legislature. Undeterred, Duran has subsequently flagged 64,000 New Mexicans, more than five percent of our registered voters and over ten percent of the citizens who cast votes in last year's general election, to be "investigated" by state police."
So there are mismatches between the Voter Registration list and the Drivers License list. Who cares? What public resources will be used to have the state police check this? What protection will they offer for people's privacy? See a good article about this in the Santa Fe New Mexican on Tuesday: http://www.santafenewmexican.com/Local%20News/Experts-question-vote-fraud-case-surge
Posted by: Michelle Meaders | Jun 16, 2011 1:21:38 PM
There needs to be a serious burden of proof on the part of those alleging that there is such a thing as voter fraud. It usually does not get defined in any practical terms so that one could really look for any evidence. The allegation is enough.
This leads to a clear implication that this is about race.
Since Nixon, the Republican Party has been all too eager to find subtle and not so subtle ways to suppress the minority vote factor. Without clear evidence that really indicates that there is something behind this allegation, this remains a bogus issue and shame on all those who support this without thinking.
Posted by: Stuart Heady | Jun 17, 2011 10:17:42 AM