Saturday, September 15, 2012

Voter Suppression: The Confederacy Rises Again

CharlotteOn Sunday I attended a fascinating panel of Southern politics experts convened by UNC–Chapel Hill. One of the major takeaways from the session was how diverse the South has become. For instance, Charlotte, the host city of the DNC, is now 45 percent white, 35 percent African-American and 13 percent Hispanic.

Among baby boomers aged 55–64, the South is 72 percent white. Among kids 15 or under, the South is 51 percent white, 22 percent Hispanic, 21 percent African-American and 6 percent other (which includes Asian-Americans and Native-Americans). In North Carolina, people of color accounted for 61 percent of the 1.5 million new residents the state gained over the past decade. Since 2008, the black and Hispanic share of eligible voters in North Carolina has grown by 2.5 percent, while the percentage of the white vote has decreased by a similar margin. This increasing diversity allowed Obama to win the Southern states of Florida, North Carolina and Virginia in 2008—all of which are competitive again in 2012.

The region’s changing demographics are a “ticking time bomb for Republicans,” said Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center. The Southern GOP is 88 percent white. The Southern Democratic Party is 50 percent white, 36 percent African-American, 9 percent Hispanic and 5 percent other. The GOP’s dominance among white voters—who favor Romney over Obama by 26 points in the region—has allowed Republicans to control most of the region politically. But that will only be the case for so long if demographic trends continue to accelerate. Yet instead of courting the growing minority vote, Republicans across the South are actively limiting political representation for minority voters and making it harder for them to vote.

Eight of eleven states in the former Confederacy have passed restrictive voting laws since the 2010 election, as part of a broader war on voting undertaken by the GOP. Some of these changes have been mitigated by recent federal and state court rulings against the GOP, yet it’s still breathtaking to consider the different ways Republicans have sought to suppress the minority vote in the region.
• Laws mandating strict forms of government-issued identification to cast a ballot were passed in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Virginia tightened a looser voter ID law. A federal court blocked Texas’s discriminatory voter ID law last week and will rule on South Carolina’s law shortly. Mississippi and Alabama must also receive preclearance for their voter ID laws—which are scheduled to go into effect in 2013 and 2014—from a federal court in Washington or the Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. According to a 2005 study by the Brennan Center for Justice, 11 percent of US citizens don’t have government-issued IDs, but the number is 25 percent among African-Americans.• Laws requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote were passed in Alabama and Tennessee. Restrictions on voter registration drives were enacted in Florida and Texas. Florida’s law has been overturned by a federal court. Texas’s law has also been blocked by a state judge. Data from the 2004 and 2008 elections in Florida show that “African-American and Hispanic citizens are about twice as likely to register to vote through drives as white voters,” according to Project Vote.• Early voting periods were reduced in Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. African-Americans in states like Florida were twice as likely to cast ballots during early voting as white voters. According to University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, 800,000 voters in Florida cast ballots during early voting hours in 2008 eliminated by the GOP. A federal court overturned the law in the five Florida counties covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.• Florida also prevented felons convicted of nonviolent crimes from voting after they’ve served their time, which disenfranchised nearly 200,000 Floridians who would have been eligible to vote in 2012. Blacks are 13 percent of registered voters in Florida, but 23 percent of disenfranchised felons.• Only three Southern states—Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina—did not pass restrictive voting laws since 2010. North Carolina Democratic Governor Bev Perdue twice vetoed efforts by North Carolina Republicans to pass a strict voter ID law before the 2012 election. If GOP gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory wins in November, it’s all but certain a tough voter ID law will be among the first pieces of legislation he signs.• In conjunction with these new voting restrictions, Republicans all across the South used their control of state legislatures following 2010 to pass redistricting maps that will lead to a re-segregation of Southern politics, placing as many Democratic lawmakers into as few “majority minority” districts as possible as a way to maximize the number of Republican seats. “Their goal is to make the Republican Party a solidly white party and to make the Democratic Party a majority African-American one,” says Kareem Crayton, professor of law at UNC-Chapel Hill and an expert on voting rights in the South. The Texas redistricting maps, which a federal court ruled last week were “enacted with discriminatory purpose,” are simply a more extreme version of an effort that has been replicated in virtually every Southern state to undercut black and Hispanic political representation.
The consequences of these changes will be to make it harder for growing minority populations to be able to cast a ballot in much of the South and to make the region more segregated politically at a time when it is becoming more diverse demographically. “The net effect is that the potential for any coalition to exist in the Democratic Party of moderate-to-progressive whites and African-American voters is pretty much decimated,” says Crayton. Obama is betting he can once again turn out such a coalition in states like Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, but that task has become tougher in 2012. The outlook for state and local Democrats in the region is far bleaker.

The regression in the South today when it comes to voting rights is eerily reminiscent of tragic earlier periods in the region’s beleaguered racial history. “After Reconstruction, we saw efforts by conservative whites in Southern state legislatures to cut back on opportunities for black Americans to cast a ballot,” says Crayton. “It’s hard to dismiss the theory that what we’re seeing today is a replay of that scenario.”

Today, four Southern states (Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas) are supporting a constitutional challenge to Section 5 originating in Shelby County, Alabama. When Republicans in Tampa yearned for the good ol’ days, it was hard not to get the feeling that they were thinking of a time in the South when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not exist.

UPDATE: The Democratic Party convention platform opposes voter ID laws and "unecessary restrictions" on "the right to vote." Here's the section:
Voting Rights. We believe the right to vote and to have your vote counted is an essential American freedom, and we oppose laws that place unnecessary restrictions on those seeking to exercise that freedom. Democrats have a proud history of standing up for the right to vote. During the Obama administration, the Justice Department has initiated careful, thorough, and independent reviews of proposed voting changes, and it has prevented states from implementing voter identification laws that would be harmful to minority voters. Democrats know that voter identification laws can disproportionately burden young voters, people of color, low-income families, people with disabilities, and the elderly, and we refuse to allow the use of political pretexts to disenfranchise American citizens.

  • Nick, Very low tolerance for willful ignorance
    I'm still trying to figure out why I should have to present an ID to exercise my right to vote, but shouldn't have to present an ID to exercise my right to own a firearm.
    How is the one right different from the other?
  • Eli Cabelly
    Don't forget about voter suppression laws passed in Ohio and Pennsylvania as well.
  • Using the former Confederacy as your scapegoat/mudsill misses the point, especially since there're a fair number of non-southern states doing the same thing (Rhode Island being the only one doing it with a Democratic legislative majority, go figure). This is ALEC, this is the GOP, this is probably the Kochs; but the South is just the most pronounced area of a national problem. I realize it's easier to blame the South en masse, but it's also very shortsighted and, well, illiberal.
  • Muddy_Road
    The plutocracy is moving towards general voter suppression in order to gain control of elections and  thus government. The less eligible voters, the easier it is to exert control. Eventually, they want to disenfranchise the vast majority of Americans and allow only their kind to vote.
    The best way to sell the plan to the suckers is SOP demagogic racism, sexism and all the other -isms they can put into play. It is unwise to under estimate the power of prejudice to motivate decisions, even those that by any rational analysis are harmful to the sucker and the country.
    I think I am supposed to say this isn't class war, it's about altruism and patriotism. But, to hell with that, it is class  war and the fat cat bastards started it 40 or more years ago.
    ~"There's class warfare, all right," Mr. Buffett said, "but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."~Warren Buffet

    (Edited by author 1 week ago)
  • Operation_Granny
    Seniors represent an increasingly growing class of voters -that you remember the Flower Children of the Sixties? We're Senior Citizens now. This is not a viting group which will tolerate being ignored or disenfranchised. We may have mellowed a bit but assuming we've all lost a strong opposition to being screwed by the establishment would be a grave mistake.
  • Wellington williams
  • Rixar13
    "Eight of eleven states in the former Confederacy have passed restrictive voting laws since the 2010 election, as part of a broader war on voting undertaken by the GOP."
    Excellent report...
  • enrique62
    This is an excellent piece of reporting.
  • Operation_Granny
    If every one posting here - Granny included - takes a vow to check local laws and deadlines and then gets two people registered or reregistered *and* offers them a ride to the polls on election day will go a long way toward helping ourselves and our country. I've taken to striking up conversations with total strangers in public places about the importance of registering or checking their status *now*. It's our country to keep or to lose...for our children and grandchildren.
  • Aunt Brenda
    How can I check if I am still registered to vote as an overseas voter?  I registered with the Democrats abroad group but now I don't know if I'll get my ballot because I could not get along with them. I live in Holland and am (was) registered to vote in the state of North Carolina.
  • Guest
    Comment removed.
  • Aunt Brenda
    Yes.  I just checked with the NC Board of Elections and they do have me registered.  But I am still not sure when I should squawk if the ballot doesn't come.
  • ruffsoft
    Voter suppression is the new Jim Crow.  This is how blacks and other minorities are disenfranchised.
  • JimmyOlsenCubReporter
    Pennsylvania Republicans have also enacted a restrictive voter ID law.  I guess that means Gen. Lee won the Battle of Gettysburg after all.
  • manhattanmike
    "No. It means the bigotry know no boundaries, though the South is one of its main sources."
    I apologize for that last comment--angry that Southern Republicans could openly seek to disenfranchise large numbers of minority Americans while considering themselves patriots. Certainly, bigotry is not a purely Southern problem.
  • Gallant_Guppy
    I'm from Pennsylvania.  My Republican state representative, Kate Harper, sent me propaganda from Breitbarf's gang to prove voter fraud.
  • aznative
    Wow, that is just sad, that a state rep, from either party, would use that kind of propaganda to prove anything, much less voter fraud.
  • robberw
    I say no taxation without representation.  If my vote is invalidated, I should have the right to stop paying taxes.  This is a 100% American solution to this problem.
  • Aunt Brenda
    Yes, but who will enforce it?  We are all disenfranchised when you really think about it but the Tea Party fools have stolen that symbol of struggle against taxation without representation. I 
  • Operation_Granny
    I belueve the major reason Obama could not accomplish things he intended to was the stone walling Republicans who fought him every step of the way. Given a Democratic majority in both Senate and House that will work with him instead of against him we will have a better outcome. Republicans voted against even their own ideas to stonewall him. Their goal being to be sure he did not get a second term. Register. Vote Democratic or your children will be vassal

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