Voter Suppression and the Battle for Democracy
Voting has long been proclaimed the hallmark of American democracy. At the same time, American history could be written as the history of voter suppression. From the beginning, elections have been a battleground in the struggle for defining the aims and aspirations of the people, as well as a struggle for power, to determine how the dominant class can maintain its rule. To that end, the vote has been manipulated, suppressed and controlled to ensure the outcome is in the interests of the ruling class. American democracy may proclaim itself to represent the interests of all the people, but in the end, it is a form of class rule.
In the 2018 mid-term elections for governor of the state of Georgia, Brian Kemp, then current Secretary of State and candidate for governor, oversaw his own election while running against Democratic nominee Stacy Abrams. Since 2012, 1.4 million people have been removed from Georgia’s voting rolls. Continuing that practice, “Purge by Postcard” was initiated, in which those who had not voted in previous elections were sent a postcard. Those who did not return the card were automatically removed from the rolls without notification. At least 340,000 voters were disenfranchised by this method.
“Exact Match” was another method of voter suppression passed by the Georgia legislature. It required an exact match in every detail of handwritten registration forms with existing records. Even one small discrepancy disqualified the voter. An estimated 53,000 voters were purged by this method in 2018. Widespread voter suppression in Georgia is the reason why Stacy Abrams is not governor of Georgia today. She lost the election by some 58,000 votes out of almost 4 million cast.
A Revolutionary River
We have, in our time, seen the unfolding of a process in which millions of workers have been displaced, losing their jobs and their means of livelihood. They have been forced to fight for the very survival of themselves and their families. Forced to the margins, they are at the core of a rising social movement to obtain the necessities of life – housing, healthcare, food, clean water. This surging movement has entered into the electoral process as a means to achieve their aims. They are being met by voter suppression.
In her September 2018 The New York Times Opinion, “We are not the Resistance,” Michelle Alexander, the best-selling author of The New Jim Crow wrote, “The long, continuous yearning and reaching toward freedom flows throughout history like a river…Every leap forward has been traceable to this revolutionary river.” A new nation is struggling to be born she says, a nation in which every life and every voice truly matters. It is this revolutionary river that will carry us forward. We are not just resisting. We are fighting for a true democracy in which the basic needs of all human beings are distributed to all.
A History of Voter Suppression
Even as the Constitution was being written, the slaveholding section of the capitalist class moved to consolidate their hold on the new nation. They insisted upon the inclusion of the Three-Fifths Compromise, which provided that for every 100 slaves owned, the slaveholder could cast 60 votes on his own behalf to ensure their dominance of the House of Representatives and the electoral college. America was essentially a Southern country for 80 years. In addition, only white men of property were allowed to vote.
The rising tide of abolitionism and the election of Abraham Lincoln became the death-knell of the slave-holders’ power. With the Civil War, slavery was abolished, and the reconstruction of the South began. The 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution granted citizenship to the former slaves and extended voting rights to Black males. During Reconstruction in the South, of the four million newly freed former slaves, hundreds of thousands voted, and many were elected to office. By 1872, 320 Blacks had been elected to state and federal office.
In the 1876 presidential election, ostensibly due to widespread voter fraud, the outcome of the election was disputed. What resulted came to be known as the “Great Betrayal” of African Americans in the South. The election was awarded to Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican, but on condition that federal troops, which had guaranteed the Reconstruction reforms in the South, be removed and that the 15th amendment cease being enforced. State’s rights prevailed. The ruling class of the old Confederacy was returned to power.
A reign of terror ensued. With the whip and the lynch rope, Blacks were driven from office and from the polls. New state laws nullified the 15th amendment. Literacy tests, poll taxes, and other voter suppression devices were adopted. Segregation laws were mandated. African Americans were pushed back into slave-like conditions. Jim Crow reigned supreme. The Black Belt South was reduced to a colonial, fascist backwater.
In the heart of American democracy, a brutal, dictatorial regime was established, which bore little resemblance to democracy. Voter suppression, entwined with white supremacy, was at the core of its foundation.
The Jim Crow South was also known as the “Solid South.” No Republican, the party of Lincoln, could be elected to public office in the South. Voting happened almost exclusively in the Democratic Party primaries, which openly proclaimed itself to be the party of white supremacy, and where only whites were allowed to vote.
With the ending of World War II, conditions in the world and in the South began to change in profound ways. The South had to be opened up for industrial expansion, ending its time as an agricultural reserve for Northern capital. This allowed for the emergence of a massive movement, led by African Americans in the South, to end Jim Crow segregation and oppression. At the core of this movement was the drive to end voter suppression and to obtain the full expression of the right to vote and to participate fully in the democratic process.
The passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 was a major step in overthrowing Jim Crow. It outlawed voter suppression measures, such as literacy tests and poll taxes. It required that all states with records of denying the vote be pre-cleared by the Justice Department, before it could enact any new voting laws or rules. African Americans by the millions poured into the electoral process.
But by 2013, the counter-revolution had resurged anew. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, decided to gut Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which removed requirements that the states had to get approval before enacting any changes in voting procedures.
Almost immediately new voter ID laws began to pop up all over the country, but especially in the South. In North Carolina, for example, not only were Voter ID laws passed, but also provisions to curtail early voting, eliminate same-day registration, prohibit extending voting hours, and to block voter registration drives conducted by African American churches and the NAACP.
A whole host of voter suppression measures, all allowed since 2013, have affected the outcome of elections. Gerrymandering is also a key factor in determining how elections turn out overall. “Operation Redmap,” funded by millions of dollars in dark money from major unnamed donors, set out to draw congressional districts in their favor in states all across the country. The results: in Wisconsin, Democratic candidates for the state assembly won 54 percent of the vote but won only 37 percent of the seats. In both Ohio and North Carolina, the vote was 50-50, but Republicans won 75 percent of the seats in both states. Nationwide close to 1000 statewide seats were flipped.
A Vision of a New America
Today, new conditions are being developing that set the stage for how we go forward. The Civil War and Reconstruction marked a turning point in the battle for democracy. What followed was a regime that, in the heart of America, could only be described as fascist – a brutal regime of terror that replaced any semblance of democracy.
Today, more than a century later, we are once again at a point of crisis. This time, as millions are on the rise in response to an assault not only on their rights, but of their very access to the means of life, the ruling class, drawing upon the darkest moments of American history, is fighting to continue as a ruling class and to preserve its treasure and private property at all costs.
In this current context, we see how the whole array of voter suppression measures are part of the process of the ruling class replacing democracy by legal means, and of instituting a fascist State. Of course, we have to fight all of these measures in all of their forms. But we also understand that we are a part of the rising tide of the revolutionary river that has coursed through American history from its beginning.
You cannot stop a river. You can attempt to divert it, even to dam it up, but it will in the end achieve its destination. For us, that destination is a new world in which every human being is valued, in which everyone can contribute to their fullest, and in which the treasure of society is distributed to all in need. That is the true meaning of democracy, and that is our destiny. RC
July/August 2018 Vol29.Ed4
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011