Voter Suppression is an Assault on Democracy Itself

Planet Waves Legal Reporter

With the 2020 election just around the corner, Republicans are once again doing everything in their power to stop Democrats and minorities from voting, because they know that fair elections will remove them from power. President Trump even went so far as to admit this outright, when he declared that the recent coronavirus stimulus bill “…had things — levels of voting that, if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.

Or as Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Republican Heritage Foundation, put it, “How many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome — good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

A Long and Continuing Pattern

In one recent case, shortly after the Tennessee Black Voter Project turned in over 36,000 new voter registrations (over half of which were immediately thrown out, allegedly due to various minor technical errors), Republicans in Tennessee passed a law imposing criminal penalties on any voter registration groups that submit registration forms containing any slight mistakes or omissions, in an overt effort to intimidate activists and depress minority turnout.

Even more recently, the Supreme Court’s Republican majority, relying on the thinnest of procedural pretexts, stopped Wisconsin from extending (PDF) its absentee ballot deadline at the height of the coronavirus outbreak, forcing voters to choose between risking their lives to vote in person (in defiance of government and medical experts’ urgent warnings to avoid human contact), and allowing Republicans to once again enforce their minority rule through the treacherous and self-serving disenfranchisement of Americans.

For Republicans, not even the threat of a deadly global pandemic is enough to justify making it easier to vote; instead, they use that threat to keep people away from the polls. That is also why Republicans oppose voting-by-mail: because it works.

Since the Republican majority on the Supreme Court has removed (PDF) key protections of the Voting Rights Act, and has also ruled (PDF) that extreme partisan gerrymandering is somehow constitutional, it is now up to Congress to explicitly outlaw partisan gerrymandering and all other forms of voter suppression.

An Attack on the System’s Final Guardian

Voter suppression is the most odious and provocative tactic used to appropriate power, because not only is it fundamentally undemocratic, it also assaults the only means we have to effect change without violence. Ultimately, for every social or political problem, the solution is to vote.

If enough people dislike a law or policy, they can elect new lawmakers who will fix it. If a group faces discrimination, they can elect people who will protect them. If the public dislikes how the judiciary interprets a law, they can elect new judges or elect different people to appoint them. If a judge, a president, or an official abuses his power, people can elect legislators who will impeach and remove him.

Voting is the country’s immune system, because it attacks the problems plaguing society and eliminates the diseases within it. So then, voter suppression is akin to AIDS, because it ravages the immune system of the body politic.

Protesters marching in the street and ordinary people complaining about laws or politicians are often told, “If you don’t like the way things are, then vote.” But what recourse remains once you have been disenfranchised? If your ability to vote has been taken away, then how can you vote to restore it?

Fair Representation is a Barrier Against Violence

Voting is the mechanism that enables peaceful transitions of power; it is the reason we agree not to resort to violence, because it provides a means of change without it. The legitimacy of the state’s authority stems from the participation and consent of the governed. Our social contract stipulates that we give the state a monopoly on violence in exchange for our input on how it operates.

But if the state breaks its promise to let us choose our rulers, why should we keep our promise to peacefully submit to its rule? When ‘might makes right’ is the only remaining basis for the state’s authority, then our own might becomes just as legitimate as the state’s.

Congress must act to protect our democracy by criminalizing all forms of voter suppression. We patriotic Americans who oppose these despicable tactics should donate to organizations (such as FairFight) that work to protect voting rights, and regularly contact our representatives to demand that they take action to preserve our free and fair elections.

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”

– John F. Kennedy

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