Republican Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, set the stage for the racist disenfranchisement you will read about below in the 2013 case, Shelby County, Alabama v. Eric Holder, Attorney General. He basically said that a crucial plank of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was not necessary at this time because America isn’t that racist anymore. No, seriously. That’s what he wrote in his majority opinion. Per Roberts:
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 employed extraordinary measures to address an extraordinary problem. Section 5 of the Act required States to obtain federal permission before enacting any law related to voting — a drastic departure from basic principles of federalism. And § 4 of the Act applied that requirement only to some States-an equally dramatic departure from the principle that all States enjoy equal sovereignty. This was strong medicine, but Congress determined it was needed to address entrenched racial discrimination in voting, “an insidious and pervasive evil which had been perpetuated in certain parts of our country through unremitting and ingenious defiance of the Constitution.” South Carolina v. Katzenbach, 383 U. S. 301, 309 (1966). As we explained in upholding the law, “exceptional conditions can justify legislative measures not otherwise appropriate.” Reflecting the unprecedented nature of these measures, they were scheduled to expire after five years.
Nearly 50 years later, they are still in effect; indeed, they have been made more stringent, and are now scheduled to last until 2031. There is no denying, however, that the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions. By 2009, “the racial gap in voter registration and turnout [was] lower in the States originally covered by § 5 than it [was] nationwide.” Northwest Austin Municipal Util. Dist. No. One v. Holder, 557 U. S. 193, 203-204 (2009). Since that time, Census Bureau data indicate that African-American voter turnout has come to exceed white voter turnout in five of the six States originally covered by § 5, with a gap in the sixth State of less than one half of one percent.
Sure, the conditions today are not as dire as they were before the United States government finally gave African Americans (theoretical) equal rights under the law, but saying “the conditions that originally justified these measures no longer characterize voting in the covered jurisdictions” is unimaginably naïve. Here are examples from four states (including one state in a “covered jurisdiction”) of how Republicans are echoing the disenfranchisement of the Jim Crow era in order to take a basic right away from minority populations who traditionally vote for Democrats.
We’ll begin our journey into the modern Jim Crow in Vice President Mike Pence’s home state of Republican-controlled Indiana. Per investigative journalist Greg Palast:
Indiana has purged no less than 20,000 voters in violation of a federal court order.
A team of database experts, statisticians, lawyers and investigators working with the Palast Investigative Fund discovered — and Indiana now admits — that these thousands of voters were cancelled in violation of a June 2018 federal court order that barred the state from using the notorious Interstate Crosscheck purge list sent to state officials by Kris Kobach, Secretary of State of Kansas.
The court order stemmed from a suit by the NAACP and League of Woman Voters against a 2017 Indiana law ordering counties to remove voters if they appear on Kobach’s list which purports to identify voters who have left the state. The NAACP and League cited the Palast team’s evidence in our 2016 Rolling Stone article showing that Crosscheck is overwhelmingly wrong in identifying voters who have moved — and extremely racist in operation.
The report found that in total, Indiana canceled the registrations of 469,000 voters. That’s equivalent to a little over 10% of the registered voters in Indiana’s 2014 midterms. These efforts are no small thing, and they’re just getting started now that the Supreme Court has emboldened them.
Republican Brian Kemp is the current Georgia Secretary of State, and he is running for governor. This means that he has power over who can and who cannot vote for him in this upcoming election, and if you think he won’t use that power to unfairly benefit himself, well you haven’t been paying attention to the GOP. Per the Associated Press:
According to records obtained from Kemp’s office through a public records request, Appling-Nunez’s application — like many of the 53,000 registrations on hold with Kemp’s office — was flagged because it ran afoul of the state’s “exact match” verification process.
Under the policy, information on voter applications must precisely match information on file with the Georgia Department of Driver Services or the Social Security Administration. Election officials can place non-matching applications on hold.
An application could be held because of an entry error or a dropped hyphen in a last name, for example.
An analysis of the records obtained by The Associated Press reveals racial disparity in the process. Georgia’s population is approximately 32 percent black, according to the U.S. Census, but the list of voter registrations on hold with Kemp’s office is nearly 70 percent black.
The number of applications on hold is equal to about 2% of the total number of votes cast in the 2014 gubernatorial election. The RealClearPolitics average of all polling currently gives Kemp a 1.4% lead over his African American challenger, Stacey Abrams. You do the math on what this is really about. And if you still think it’s just an innocent clerical dispute, this isn’t the only attempt made by the Republican-controlled state of Georgia to strip voting rights from citizens.
Stop me if you've heard this before: but a Republican candidate for governor (Ron DeSantis) running against an African American challenger (Andrew Gillum) is benefiting from racist laws disenfranchising minority voters created by Republicans running the state. Per the Courthouse News Service:
Of the 30,196 applications for voting rights restoration [Florida governor Rick Scott has] received since taking office in January 2011, he's approved only 3,005, or just under 10 percent, according to statistics compiled by the Florida Commission on Offender Review.
Scott has also rolled back the automatic restoration of rights for nonviolent crimes passed by his predecessor, Charlie Crist, and instituted a five- or seven-year waiting period (depending on the crime) for all former felons before they can formally apply for restoration of their civil rights.
Four times a year, the state board holds hearings for less than 100 applicants. The clemency board has no set standards on how to judge applicants' worthiness for rights restoration and Scott has the final say. If denied, the petitioner must wait two years to re-apply.
At the current rate, the wait for a hearing is 16 years after the completion of a sentence, according to the Office of Executive Clemency.
This entire nightmare is encapsulated in one perfect anecdote:
This is the Republican mantra: minorities (who typically vote for Democrats) only get their basic rights if they exercise them in order to hand Republicans more power. It’s not about democracy with this party, it’s about raw power. The GOP is explicitly anti-democratic and this kind of stuff will only continue to get worse with a Supreme Court completely on their side. If you don’t believe me, as bad as the examples from Georgia and Florida are, there’s a state doing something that’s damn near equivalent to the racist Jim Crow laws of the 20th century.
North Dakota Republicans are stripping thousands of Native Americans of the right to vote, all because of a loophole made through America’s historical abuse of these American citizens. Per Slate:
Until recently, voting in North Dakota was relatively easy. The state has no voter registration; historically, residents could simply show up at the polls and provide some form of identification (no photo required). If they lacked ID, voters could sign an affidavit confirming their eligibility. The GOP-controlled Legislature began cracking down on suffrage shortly after Heitkamp eked out an unexpected victory in 2012, winning by fewer than 3,000 votes. Republicans introduced a stringent voter ID requirement, then scrapped the affidavit option. A federal district court blocked the new rules in 2016 as a likely equal-protection violation due to the massive burdens they placed on Native American voters. The Legislature tweaked the law in 2017, but the court again froze a large chunk of it in April, citing its “discriminatory and burdensome impact on Native Americans.”
Thanks to this decision, the most draconian components of North Dakota’s voter ID law were not in effect during the state’s June primary. In late September, however, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court in a 2-1 decision. The appeals court allowed the state to implement the part of the law that compels voters to provide an ID that includes his or her current residential street address. This provision is controversial because it seems to directly target Native Americans. The U.S. Postal Service doesn’t provide residential delivery in rural reservations, so most tribal members use a P.O. box, which is listed as their address on tribal IDs. To remedy this problem, the district court had ordered the state to accept IDs that list a current mailing address. But the 8th Circuit scrapped that compromise, permitting the state to reject IDs that include a mailing address but no street address—that is, a huge number of tribal IDs.
How many, exactly? The district court found that at least 4,998 otherwise eligible Native Americans do not have an ID with a current street address. They are not alone: About 65,000 non-Native American voters also lack the necessary ID.
The Republicans are disenfranchising traditionally Democratic voters because the United States Postal Service doesn’t provide residential delivery on rural reservations. This is nothing more than the modern equivalent of a literacy test or a poll tax. The state of North Dakota is setting up a game that cannot be won, and citing the failure of its participants to win the unwinnable as the prime reason to strip them of their most fundamental democratic right. If you live in a Republican state, make sure you’re still registered to vote, as these undemocratic cretins have proven that unless you vote for them, they will attack your fundamental democratic rights.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.