I don’t know the outcome of the presidential contest as I write this. But, I do know a matter has been raised that should not fade away whatever the result. That matter is permitting partisan challengers to confront voters and claim they should not be able to vote because of age, identity or residency. The practice violates the intent of the Voting Rights Act, which is that barriers not be erected to prevent people previously excluded from the electorate, racial minorities, from voting. The Republicans’ practice of having thousands of challengers descend on polling places in African-American communities came under national scrutiny during this election.
The Columbus Star reports.
COLUMBUS, Ohio: The Republican Party posted thousands of people inside Ohio polling places to challenge voters’ eligibility Tuesday after a dispute that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court just hours before the balloting began.
Republicans said they wanted challengers in precincts because of concerns about fraud, but Democrats filed lawsuits accusing the GOP of trying to suppress turnout and intimidate black voters.
But a three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the orders of two federal judges and ruled 2-1 early Tuesday that the presence of challengers was permitted under state law. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to step in.
In their rulings, the lower courts identified using partisan poll challengers as a method of intimidation. The roots of that approach to preventing minority voting date back to Reconstruction. As conservative white Southerners convinced the federal government to look away, they mounted a campaign of violence to prevent the freedmen from voting, a practice still new to the former slaves. Within a few years, virtually all African-Americans were removed from electoral rolls. That was the status quo until after the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965 — not yet forty years ago. The GOP’s Southern Strategy is partly a reaction to the VRA. The Republicans wooed white Southerners opposed to desegregation and particularly incensed that blacks would be allowed to vote. That resentment is still revealed today in the use of poll challengers. If the GOP were really concerned about voter fraud, their challenges would not be almost exclusively in minority neighborhoods. Nor are their allegations of massive voter fraud by minority voters legitimate. The most fraudulent elections in America were the result of machine politics, from which blacks and Hispanics were often excluded.
We have a very conservative Supreme Court. One of its jurists, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, (pictured) began his political career as a Republican challenger of black and Hispanic voters in Arizona. Some people who were there say he sometimes had to be physically removed from polling places to keep him from bullying voters. Still, I believe it is time for SCOTUS to consider state laws that allow partisan challengers to confront voters. If the Voting Rights Act is to have any meaning, it must be enforced. It cannot be enforced adequately as long as this practice is allowed.
Note 2: Enjoy a mixed grille of fine blogging at Mac-a-ro-nies.