HINRICHS: Voting rights in U.S. are historically troubling
Opinions Column: Unveiling the Truth
We have time and again taken two steps forward and one step back in regard to civil liberties and voting rights, and we must recognize that we are currently in a phase of regression. As a nation we must dig in our heels, assert our values, resist the forces of hate and bigotry and push forward.
Although wounded and scarred, the war for a more just and free nation and the ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Sixth Amendments to the Constitution, among other factors, brought new promises of liberty and democracy. But promises not carved in stone are promises written in sand.
With the freedom to vote and the aid of an extended arm of government, African Americans registered, mobilized and voted for representation. Once starved by political inequality, African Americans took to the ballot to claim their seat at the table. During the Reconstruction Era, 16 African Americans served in the United States Congress, more than 600 African Americans were elected to state legislatures and hundreds held local offices throughout the South.
White America, still clinging to a corroding superiority complex and crippling bigotry, looked upon this unsettling sight of freedom and responded by mobilizing hate and suppression.
Promises of freedom resulted in the exchange of chains for jail cells and promises of the rights of citizenship resulted in political disenfranchisement, voting discrimination and brutality. Again, pillars of injustice upon which this nation was lifted up casted a shadow upon the ideas of democracy and freedom left broken and bloodied upon the ground.
In 1965, the Voting Rights Act, a monumental legislation protecting freedom, ensuring liberty and prohibiting racial discrimination in voting, was passed. Yet, African Americans and other marginalized peoples still find themselves victims of broken promises.
Following the 2010 election, state legislatures nationwide enacted harsh restrictions on registration and stringent photo ID requirements making it more difficult to vote. These measures have a disproportionately negative impact on African Americans and persons of color. Racial gerrymandering has also turned back the clocks, disenfranchising people of color and stealing their right to representation. From the 1960s to the 1980s, districts needed to be more than 50, sometimes 65 percent, African American for their favored candidate to win an election. Today that percentage fluctuates around 40 percent.
In 2013, Shelby v. Holder lifted pre-approval, allowing states to enact voting restrictions targeting nonwhite voters. The blood left in the streets of Alabama in the 1960s had soaked into the soil to be forgotten and ignored.
The Institute for Policy Studies, in a report recognizing the need for a reengagement of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s Poor People’s Campaign, noted “More than 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, people of color still face a broad range of attacks on their voting rights, including racist gerrymandering and redistricting, felony disenfranchisement and a variety of laws designed to make it harder to vote.”
According to a study done by the University of California, San Diego, voter ID laws doubled the turnout gap between whites and Latinos.
The conjuring of the voter fraud specter is a political tool to further disenfranchise minorities and profile minorities as felons who cheat the system. In a comprehensive study of 1 billion ballots, only 31 individual cases of voter fraud were determined.
James Baldwin wrote, “... however painful it may be for us to change, not to change will be fatal.”
With every passing day, the weight of injustice bears down on the foundation of this country and adds one more crack. We can mend our injured values and heal our fractured and divided nation. Our stagnation in our progression will be fatal to our democracy.
Luke Hinrichs is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year majoring in political science and economics. His column, “Unveiling the Truth,“ runs on alternate Wednesdays.
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