By Deacon Tom Tripp, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Eggertsville, NY and member of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania Commission to Dismantle Racism and Discrimination – Buffalo, New York, August 5, 2020
“The right to vote is the bedrock of American democracy, however, it has proven to be fragile and in need of both Constitutional and statutory protections. Racial discrimination has proven to be a particularly pernicious and enduring American problem.” (from An Assessment of Minority Voting Rights in the United States conducted by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 2018, page 12.)
As of this writing, there appears to be a thinly veiled attempt to suppress those Americans opting to vote by mail (during a pandemic), by knee-capping the U.S. Postal Service. This untimely action taken by the current administration will affect millions of citizens of all colors. Yet, it is only the latest of governmental actions intended to suppress voting in strategic manners and aimed mainly at people of color.
Did you know:
- Between 2016-2018, 17 million names were purged from voter rolls across the U.S., particularly in parts of the country that have “a demonstrated history of discrimination in voting.”
- Texas closed over 400 polling places for the 2018 election, mostly in poor areas.
- In their 2018 election, North Carolina purged 6% of its voter rolls, mostly minorities. A Federal court declared one Congressional election invalid, stating that the changes in the voting process “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
- During the June primary, Kentucky provided one voting site for each county. The city of Louisville had just one polling place for a population of 600,000.
- North Dakota required voters to provide identification with a street addresses for voter registration in 2018, which threatened to bar many Native American residents from voting.
- In 2016, Wisconsin prevented nearly 17,000 citizens from voting via a restrictive voter ID law that “disproportionately affected low-income and African-American voters.”
These are just a small sampling of systemic voter suppression actions taken in many states since 2013. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, championed by the likes of Rep. John Lewis, was established as law to prevent such occurrences, and to combat the terrible discriminatory nature of Jim Crow.
However, in 2013, the Supreme Court of the U.S. in Shelby County v Holder ruled unconstitutional a key provision (the Section 5 preclearance system) in the Voting Rights Act that made it necessary for states to preclear with Congress any statute changes to voting procedures before initiating them. SCOTUS ruling also weakened the Department of Justice’s ability to enforce any violations. As a result, 23 states immediately changed their voting procedures for the 2016 election, and 10 more states did the same for 2018. All such changes proved to be discriminatory to minorities.
These discriminatory violations include: having an inadequate number of polling places in minority neighborhoods; changing polling places at the last minute; unjust purging of voter rolls; limiting mail-in ballots; limiting or eliminating early voting; and denying felons voting privileges if on parole. These violations have resulted both in people being denied the right to vote and in longer waiting times to vote.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed HR-4 , the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2019, to repair and restore the Section 5 preclearance section. Sadly, it has been sitting on the desk of the Senate majority leader since Dec. 6, 2019, and arguably the most important presidential election in the history of our country is rapidly approaching.
HR-4 calls for the same conclusions reached by the U.S. Commission on Civil rights a year earlier:
- Methods of elections need to seek preclearance in a timely fashion
- Jurisdiction boundaries need to be fair and just
- Changes to voting locations and registration must not be discriminatory
- Voter rolls need to be maintained effectively and justly
Our Baptismal Covenant implores us to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”
Even if your state does not exhibit the injustices outlined above, you can still help to ensure they no longer erode the democratic process. Write Sen. McConnell to get HR-4 on the floor of the Senate. Write to your congressional representatives to help bring the bill forward. Write to the editor of your local newspaper to get the word out. Help the disadvantaged get to their polling places on election day; make sure they are registered to vote; educate them and your neighbors to the importance of HR-4. Call or write your elected officials to restore our vital national postal system.