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Saturday, September 18, 2021

The rebirth of Jim Crow

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“Everybody shouldn’t be voting. … Not everybody wants to vote and if somebody is uninterested in voting, that probably means that they’re totally uninformed on the issues. Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”

Those are the sad and sick sentiments of John Kavanagh, who is a Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives. He made the remarks publicly. In front of an audience. On camera. (Frankly, I give him credit for his honesty in championing voter suppression.)

More than 250 bills have been introduced to roll back voter access in 43 states. (Mr. Kavanagh must be proud of the fact that at least 24 laws have been proposed in Arizona since January.) These bills are designed to ensure that fewer people vote. That isn’t hyperbole; the express purpose of these proposed laws is to disenfranchise voters — in the guise of preventing “fraud.”

However, multiple studies (including those that were sponsored by Republicans) have shown that voter fraud is nearly non-existent in the U.S. For example, one study found that, out of roughly 1 billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014, there were only 31 cases of potential fraud, and not all of those cases have even been investigated.

What about the argument that ID laws (perhaps the most common tactic) increase “voter confidence” in the electoral process? Not so much. As law professor Justin Levitt has pointed out, studies show that people who live in states that have more restrictive voter ID laws usually don’t have more confidence in elections than those who live in states that have less restrictive laws. Oh well …

The bottom line is that such bills are a direct result not only of Donald Trump losing last year’s election “in a landslide”; the other driving factor is that Republicans are losing ground in states that formerly were reliably red, such as Georgia. Speaking of which, the final version of the bill in Georgia — which Gov. Brian Kemp signed under a painting of a slave plantation — scrapped some of the more odious provisions at the last minute. But “less horrible” is a pitifully low bar when it comes creating laws.

Not coincidentally, some of the laws are being proposed in four states that voted for President Joe Biden, despite the fact that their legislatures are controlled by Republicans: Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan. Further, three states in which Donald Trump won by fewer than five points — Texas, North Carolina and Florida — also have jumped on the voter suppression bandwagon. (Florida is considering new voter restrictions in spite of fact that even most Republicans want voting to be easier, such as by adding more days for early voting.) Iowa cut early voting and will be closing polls an hour earlier. I could go on.

Sadly, the drive to disenfranchise Americans, especially Black ones, isn’t new. This nation has seen poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses (which were used to allow white men to get around poll taxes and literacy tests), guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar and myriad other barriers used to suppress our vote.

More recently, when the U.S. Supreme Court severely curtailed the Voting Rights Act in 2013, 22 jurisdictions engaged in voter suppression laws within just three weeks. Those actions disproportionately affected Blacks, Hispanics and young voters. In short, we are living in the midst of the most far reaching and comprehensive effort to reduce ballot access in decades. I don’t normally believe in reincarnation, but Jim Crow has been given another shot.

The tactics vary from state to state, but the intent is the same. Unfavorable electoral math (for Republicans) is at the heart of these measures; voter suppression (especially of African Americans) is at its soul. Roughly 81% of people who voted Republican in 2020 are white. That party’s voter base is shrinking. Unfortunately for them, their voter suppression efforts won’t solve that problem.

Here’s a thought: Why not simply start appealing to a broader section of the electorate?

Larry Smith is community leader. Contact him at larry@leaff-llc.com.

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