At BriteHeart, we take our non-partisan mission to register voters seriously. Very seriously. While each of us has our own particular political interests and favorite candidates, we all agree on one thing: the more citizens that are civically engaged and vote, the better off our democracy and our country will be. It’s automatic.
Unfortunately for our democracy, there are some politicians across the country who want to limit the number of people voting for their own cynical self-interest. We see examples of this in various forms of voter suppression, partisan gerrymandering and the utter refusal of our president to do anything of substance about proven Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
So, we’d like to point out just a few of the recent cases of politicians ‘rigging the system’ by attempting to deny citizens their right to vote. We hope that you will stand up for those who are being disenfranchised by supporting candidates and voting rights advocates who are fighting for the civil liberties of ALL Americans to freely and easily cast their ballots this November 6th – and beyond.
In North Dakota, the suffrage of many of the state’s large Native American population has been curtailed by a recent Supreme Court decision upholding a lower court order that requires them to provide certain forms of ID and proof of address in the state. This is an obvious attempt to disenfranchise many of North Dakota’s tribal residents who do not have the proper identification or their address on their ID cards. It’s no coincidence that Native Americans voted in large numbers for Democrat Senator Heidi Heitkamp in 2012, who is now in a tough battle to retain her seat in next month’s election.
Earlier this month, Cole County Circuit Judge Richard Callahan scolded Missouri’s Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office for incorrectly telling voters that a Photo ID is required to cast a ballot. The judge ordered Ashcroft to amend how his office explains voting law requirements because not only were voters confused, but local election officials often gave voters different and inconsistent explanations of the law. “No compelling state interest is served by misleading local election authorities and voters into believing a photo ID card is a requirement for voting,” Callahan admonished.
Under the voting law, which remains intact, Missourians can vote normally without a valid Photo ID if they sign a statement and present another form of acceptable identification such as a voter registration card, utility bill or bank statement.
What is happening in Georgia right now is on a different level entirely. Brian Kemp, who is the Republican candidate in next month’s election for governor, also happens to be Georgia’s Secretary of State. And his office is delaying more than 53,000 pending voter registration applications, according to a report from The Associated Press. 70 percent of these voter registration applications are from African-Americans in the state where Stacey Abrams is in close contention to become the first black female governor in the United States.
Kemp’s office is enforcing an “exact match” policy that flags any registration that doesn’t precisely align with records in either the state’s Department of Driver Services or Social Security Administration’s databases. A misplaced hyphen or a middle initial instead of a middle name, for instance, is enough to put a voter registration on hold and in jeopardy of not being validated by Election Day. Old Jim Crow tricks like this, that Georgia observers say Kemp has been using for years, disproportionately flag and disenfranchise minority voters.
And Georgia is not the only state where the Secretary of State is also running for governor. Kris Kobach, who led the Trump administration’s infamous and now disbanded voter fraud commission, is seeking to become governor in Kansas. Who can guess what is going on behind the curtain of Kobach’s campaign after his work on the commission was described by another member as seeking a “pre-ordained outcome” and whose claims of voter fraud were “glaringly empty.”
Whereas in the past voting rights advocates might be comforted with the hope that our nation’s Supreme Court would stop these types of outrageous voting irregularities, no such luxury exists today.
The heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was essentially struck down by a 5-4 vote in 2013 in the Shelby County v. Holder case that now allows nine states, primarily in the South, to change election laws, voting procedures and district maps without prior federal approval. This decision has released a Pandora’s Box of voter suppression and gerrymandering opportunities for partisans like Kemp and Kovach. And, once again, extreme partisans have the freedom to construct voting barriers to minority citizens who live in states with histories of discrimination. Not surprisingly, these new election law changes can only be corrected by after-the-fact litigation.
Here in Tennessee, we have our problems too. We’re now 45th in registering people to vote and 49th in voting, but the state hasn’t made it any easier on Tennesseans to cast their ballots.
According to The Tennessean, “In 1996, Tennessee was ranked 10th in the nation — among the best in terms of ease and innovation. In 2016, we sunk to No. 48 — the most dramatic fall of any state. The factors considered include whether voters can register online, whether they can register on Election Day, whether they can mail in their votes and how strict voter ID laws are.”
These are not isolated instances. Across the country, there is clearly an increased interest in suppressing the suffrage of vast layers of America’s diverse populace.
Citizens who are devoted to genuine civic engagement and the belief that democracy depends on the free expression and votes of all its’ citizens cannot stand idly by and allow the deck to be stacked against minorities and those out of power.
Don’t let those who want to restrict voting rights win. #GetCivic and stand strong for our democracy by casting your ballot for Voting Rights Champions on November 6th.