Trump-related record turnout among Black people last November has one political party panicking hard, so much so state legislatures run by white people are working to pass a rash of new voter exclusions and restrictions targeting African Americans, especially, it seems.* The state of Georgia passed the most odious example in March. Members of an all-white team of Georgia legislators grinned (valid assumption) while Gov. Brian Kemp signed anti-voter legislation and had Black legislators arrested for daring to knock on the door during the signing ceremony.
Kemp’s new favorite law criminalizes things like “line-warming” or offering food and water to people in line to vote. It’s a practice that’s become necessary due to legislators’ efforts to keep voting lines as long and miserable as possible in mostly-Black, urban areas of the state. This is a big problem because wait times, after polls were scheduled to close, “[were] six minutes in neighborhoods that were at least 90% white, and 51 minutes in places that were at least 90% nonwhite,” according to one lawsuit. Kemp’s law also guarantees to make lines even longer by removing ballot drop-boxes from their easy access locations and putting them inside a building that locks up after hours, which kind of eliminates the whole point of out-of-doors drop boxes.
In addition, the new law allows unlimited challenges to a voter’s registration, which is a traditional tactic by officials to racially profile voters. And it allows endless chances for officials to boot voters off rolls completely. The law also allows new restrictions on mail-in voting, including a bad-faith requirement to include a driver’s license or state ID number or a photocopy of the voter’s identification to cast a mail-in ballot. Plus, it bans third-party groups from sending absentee-ballot applications to voters and kills portable polling sites, including popular mobile voting buses used in majority-Black Fulton County last November.
The Georgia GOP has good reason to want to quell voting, since they lost two U.S. Senate seats and the presidential election in the last cycle, but other states like Texas are piling on. Texas legislators are trying to pass several election bills, including SB7, which would require proof of disability to vote by mail, and it prohibits extended early voting hours. They also want to put an end to convenient drive-thru voting and prohibit county election officials from encouraging voters to vote by mail—and for no good reason beyond putting a wall in front of polling areas. (Oh, and the fact that the Texas GOP is slowly losing suburbs).
“[Texas legislators’] manipulation has got a shelf life, and I think that’s part of the reason why they’re so desperate to do it right now because they see the end. They see what’s coming down the road for them,” said Myrna Pérez, director of the voting rights and elections program at the Brennan Center for Justice.
And now Florida legislators are attempting to pass a version of Georgia’s abominable law, which would also add more identification requirements for mail voting and also limit the use of ballot drop boxes. This all in the name of “election integrity.”
Adam Serwer, a reporter for The Atlantic, is having none of it. Serwer says the GOP is trying to win by restricting democracy and using “election integrity” as an excuse. If losing is part of democracy, he says, the GOP wants nothing more to do with it.
“The country is simply theirs; if democracy produces an outcome other than Republican victory then democracy, as they understand it, has ceased to function,” Sewer posted on Twitter.
Racist states looking to curb Black turnout used to have their efforts automatically rolled by federal regulators, but after the GOP-led Supreme court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voters must now sue their states to reverse any damage legislators inflict during the legislative session. While vote-protection organizations like the New Georgia Project are taking things straight to the courts, these legal fights can take months, or even years. The best weapon for protecting voting rights is a new voting rights protection act tumbling through the U.S. Senate.
Democratic majorities in the U.S. House already voted to approve HR1 in March, and now the bill awaits approval in the Senate, with its razor-thin Democratic majority. No Republican will vote for this resolution, so Democrats must find a way to temporarily remove filibuster restriction to pass it by a simple majority, rather than the 60-vote minimum. Republicans say the resolution, if law, would allow the federal government to stick its nose in white legislators’ authority to restrict the vote and kill Democratic turnout, particularly among minorities.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy freely admits “Democrats want to … ensure they don’t lose more seats in the next election.” This is because “more voters” apparently means more “Democratic voters,” so no Republican wants free and open elections.
McCarthy is right about how HR1 will renovate the U.S. election process, however, and here are the ways it would do it.
1. Automatic voter registration.
Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith lied when she claimed HR1 would “nullify Mississippi’s successful voter ID law.” What she meant to say was that it would counteract the racially restrictive nature of voter ID that white politicians like Hyde-Smith are banking on. It does this by requiring the chief election official in every state to create an automatic voter-registration system that collects residents’ information and registers them to vote once they reach voting age. That is, unless the state resident opts out. House Resolution 1 also demands the secretary of state keep voter information up to date with info from driver’s license bureaus, the U.S. Social Security Administration and other state and federal agencies.
Additionally, the law would upset people like Hyde-Smith by guaranteeing same-day registration for voters by allowing them to register either at early voting sites or at voting precincts on Election Day. This really, really ruins politicians who were hoping to use mass vote purges to discourage political participation, because if a voter gets purged by a white Georgia or Florida official, they can simply re-register to vote on the day they vote.
“I am totally against this and will fight it every day,” says Hyde-Smith about HR1. Yep. You bet she is … and will.
2. Nonpartisan redistricting commissions.
The Lighthouse has covered the issue of politicians undemocratically choosing their own voters through outrageous gerrymandering schemes. Every 10 years, politicians get to redraw the districts they represent, and when a politician makes an agreement with other politicians to draw a district you can bet they’ll be rounding up voters who are most likely to vote for them again. This often means expelling voters of a certain race. If you are a white and Republican senator, you’re going to work with the redistricting committee to dump Black, Democratic voters into a neighboring district so you can keep all the white Republicans. Any Black voters left in your district will end up being such a small minority they no longer represent a threat to you on Election Day. Similarly, a white voter in a primarily Black Senate District will be just as powerless, if his Black, Democratic senator gets his way.
HR1 could end this madness by removing elected politicians from the redistricting process and requiring each state to use independent commissions to approve new districts. The commissions would have parity—five Democrats, five Republicans and five independents.
3. Mandatory 15 days of early voting for federal elections.
House Resolution 1 supporters are furious at long lines filing around precincts in high-population areas with lots of minority voters. A clear way to reduce that issue (which white politicians are intent on aggravating by disallowing food and drink in waiting lines) is by extending vote days and times prior to Election Day. The law would also mandate at least 10 hours a day for voting, with at least some of those hours before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m., so working people can break away from their busy jobs and vote.
4. Declare war on “dark money.
If you’re a regular Black Girl Times reader, you probably already know what “dark money” is. If you’re new to this, then know that dark money is cash handed over to candidates from shadowy super PAC organizations funded by unknown contributors. Many of these shifty cash sources are bankrolled by some of the wealthiest people on the planet, and their interests aren’t always the interests of the rest of the nation. Wealthy super PACs frequently oppose things like fully funded public schools and a safe and fully-funded healthcare system that extends to all. Shady super PACs have always been a problem, but Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision aggravated things by designating corporate spending on elections as “free speech.” Because corporations are people, too, we figure. (Just don’t expect a corporation to get the death penalty for killing anyone.) Super PAC use exploded after Citizens United, and A Brennan Center report argued that a very small group of Americans now hold “more power than at any time since Watergate, while many of the rest seem to be disengaging from politics.”
Much of that money, not surprisingly, goes to elections over court nominees.
HR1 will require super PACs and dark money groups to disclose their donors, who can hide away from public view under the current scheme. Supporters of the resolution claim it would eliminate one of the most glaringly blind parts of the U.S. election process.
5. Establish a public funding match for small-dollar donations.
This section of HR1 would further even the political playing field by allowing government match funding for non-wealthy donors who donate an average of $30 to their favorite campaigns. The public match is intended to help small donors compete with all those wealthy donors who are spending big to elect candidates who want to kill Social Security, raze public school funding and destroy the nation’s health system. The legislation will finance that public match with a fee on corporations and banks that get busted for breaking the law and must pay civil or criminal penalties. As a bonus, it also requires legendary money hoarders like Facebook and Twitter to publicly report the source and amount of money they spend on political ads.
6. A requirement that presidential candidates disclose their tax returns.
We should basically call this section of HR1 “The Trump Clause,” because it’s meant to deal with shady, wealthy presidents who may be deriving a large portion of their personal income from illegal or un-American activities, like laundering money from Russian tyrants and so forth. Trump and his potentially greasy money are under investigation in courts all over the place and Democrats demanded for year that Trump release his tax returns. This was something that Trump adamantly refused to do, and a bunch of lawsuits are probably about to show us all why.
House Resolution 1 would require candidates to release those tax copies to the public. The bill would also create more oversight on lobbyists and foreign agents. This includes shady foreign agents like the ones who helped incriminate the president.
For U.S. voters who are weary of wealthy people and crooked politicians catching every advantage at election time HR1 would be a happy delivery—if the Senate can actually deliver it. Again, the party that wants to pass it has a very slim majority, while the party that stands behind countless attempts to restrict voting opposed it as a block, because they probably see widescale voting as their death knell.
Stay posted, readers. We’ll deliver updates on HR1, as we get them.
*”It seems” has been added to avoid speaking in absolutes, yanno?