The Republican Party claims to be the party of small government -- with the obvious exceptions of denying marriage equality and massive government oversight of women's medical decisions. But there is another kind of big government that the party has overwhelmingly, enthusiastically gotten behind: expensive and intrusive attempts to make it harder for Americans to vote.
A trio of federal court decisions in Florida, Ohio and Texas last week ripped the lid off the increasingly successful right-wing campaign to limit opportunities for low-income people, minorities and students to vote -- especially, and not coincidentally, in swing states. These decisions, from even-handed and moderate federal judges across the country, show just how far the Right has gone to use the power of government to disenfranchise traditionally disenfranchised groups.
In Florida, a federal judge permanently blocked a law that had made it almost impossible for good government groups to conduct voter registration drives -- which had led groups like the venerable League of Women Voters to all but shut down operations in the state. In Ohio, a federal court ordered the state to reopen early voting in the three days before November's election, which Republicans had attempted to shut down. Early voting on the weekend before the election was enormously successful in 2008 -- especially among African Americans -- and the judge found that Republicans had no legitimate reason to want it to stop.
And finally a federal court, which is required to review changes in election policy in states and counties with a history of voting discrimination, ruled that Texas' new voter ID law couldn't go forward because it "imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas."
The effort that Republican governors and legislatures across the country have gone through in the past two years to make it more difficult for citizens to vote is truly remarkable. They have been willing to buck both the law and the spirit of our constitutional democracy to bar groups of people from participating in it. And they have been willing to set up extra layers of government and bureaucracy -- things they claim to despise -- in order to keep people from the polls.
There are plenty of areas of genuine disagreement in our politics, but the right to vote shouldn't be one of them. In an interview with The Atlantic last week, Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights movement, said "there should be public outcry" and a "sense of righteous indignation" at what is happening to our elections. He's right.
It's astounding that nearly 50 years after the Voting Rights Act banned racial discrimination at the polls, it's still needed as a shield against such egregious violations of its principles. And it's astounding that the self-proclaimed party of small government wants to use government's power to keep people from exercising their fundamental right to vote.
Jacksonville, Fla. – The African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC), a national coalition of African American clergy, today praised a federal court’s decision to strike down Florida early voting restrictions in five counties that would disproportionately affect African American voters.
“Sadly, the voter suppression tactics that the Voting Rights Act was meant to combat are alive and well in Florida,” said Elder Lee Harris of Mount Olive Primitive Baptist Church in Jacksonville. “But thanks to the Voting Rights Act, those trying to suppress the African American vote in Florida aren’t going to get away with it. The court was right to apply the act to what was a blatant attempt to keep African Americans from the polls.”
A three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Florida legislature’s decision to cut early voting from 12 days to eight, for as little as six hours a day (potentially all during the standard workday), violated section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires federal review of voting rights changes in states and counties with a history of voter discrimination. The court’s decision applies just to the five counties covered under section 5 --Collier, Hardee, Hendry, Hillsborough and Monroe. The panel said it would approve a plan where the five counties held early voting open for 12 hours a day for each of the 8 days.
“Thanks to this sound decision, which we urge Gov. Scott to accept, Black voters in five counties will reclaim access to the ballot box during these critical early voting days,” continued Elder Harris. “However, residents of counties not covered by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act – including Duval County – continue to face these suppressive new rules. We urge officials in all of Florida’s counties to adopt the same early voting opportunities as approved by the court.”
The African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, founded in 1997, has been working nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls in every election, most recently through the newly-launched non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.
Cleveland, Ohio – Members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council, a program of People For the American Way Foundation, reacted today to Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s order to standardize early voting hours statewide. The order equalizes early voting hours throughout the state by eliminating all weekend early voting, a critical part of what made early voting in Ohio so successful four years ago.
“Secretary of State Husted could have lifted everyone in Ohio up together, but instead he brought us all down together,” said Rev. Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland. “Secretary Husted was right to standardize early voting hours in Ohio. But a deal that leaves everyone worse off isn’t a victory. In 2008, one quarter of Ohio voters took advantage of convenient hours to cast our ballots early, eliminating the long lines of 2004 and contributing to a strong turnout.”
“Secretary Husted’s cynical solution to the discriminatory mess of laws he helped create was to bring everyone down to the lowest common denominator ” added Rev. Dr. Minor. “Husted should be trying to make it easier for everyone in Ohio to vote, not to make it equally difficult.”
The African American Ministers Leadership Council, founded in 1997, has been working nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls in every election, most recently through the newly-launched non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program.
Members of the African American Ministers Leadership Council (AAMLC), a program of People For the American Way Foundation, spoke out today against efforts to restrict early voting opportunities in four Ohio counties that are home to 56 percent of the state’s African American population.
"Jim Crow is alive in the 21st century and evident in the struggles we still face for equal access to the ballot box," said Rev. Dr. Tony Minor of Cleveland, Ohio. "There are politicians doing the unthinkable: they are making it harder for their constituents to exercise our constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. And once again, these suppression efforts are aimed directly at African Americans in swing states.”
Officials in four Ohio counties -- Cuyahoga, Franklin, Summit and Lucas -- are set to deny night and weekend early voting to their citizens. Those four counties are home to some of Ohio’s largest cities and over half its African American population. The state has already ended early voting for most residents in the final three days before the election. Last year, nearly 20 percent of early voters in Cuyahoga and Franklin counties went to the polls during that final time period.
The African American Ministers Leadership Council, founded in 1997, has been working nationwide to help bring African Americans to the polls in every election, most recently through the newly-launched non-partisan “I Am A VESSEL and I Vote!” program. The new early voting restrictions in Ohio are a setback to efforts to increase turnout and ensure that every vote counts.
"These efforts are intended to discourage and distract voters in the state of Ohio, but they will not succeed,” added Rev. Minor. “We have strengthened our efforts to educate our congregations and our communities about their rights and their civic responsibilities. Believe me, no matter how hard they try to stop us, we will fight back against these restrictions and we will show up at the polls and vote."