Alabama Surge Does Not Change the Story on Voter Suppression

Gulfport   Voter suppression is a mark of shame in a democracy. In fact, it beggars the question of whether a democracy exists at all. The principle of any democracy has to be a maximum effort to provide access to all eligible voters to the polls in order to exercise their franchise and give voice to their opinions on the direction of the country and its leadership.

There are no if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. Any part of the political establishment’s attempts to suppress the free expression of voters at the ballot box is anti-democratic. Period. There are no two ways about it. It’s not just politics, it’s an attempt to erode the fundamental values of the country.

A headline in the New York Times read, “Black Turnout in Alabama Complicates Debate Over Voting Laws.” Baloney! The fact that African-American voters were able to overwhelm the obstacles imposed by voter suppression and voter ID requirements does not complicate the debate whatsoever. What was wrong is still wrong. That doesn’t change just because people were able in this one instance to climb over the barriers successfully. The exception simply proves the rule in the Alabama race. Furthermore, as everyone from Republican Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell on down in the anti-voter Republican Party has said, this is a one-time thing in Alabama. How many times can voters find themselves confronted with political choices that are so utterly Manichean with good and evil presented in such stark contrasts? With voter suppression in place, and even more comprehensive in a host of other states, like Texas, a merely bad and terrible Republican would have had a good chance of winning, where the face of evil only lost by less than 2%.

The founder of Alabama’s Black Votes Matter was quoted saying, “Historically and traditionally, there has been a strong voice of resistance to those that are undemocratic,” she said. “I don’t think that this is new; I think that has always been the role that black voters, particularly in the Deep South, have played.” She’s right up to a point. Southern and, frankly, non-Southern states have been suppressing black votes for hundreds of years. I just finished reading a book called, The 1868 St. Bernard Parish Massacre: Blood in the Cane Fields, by Cris Dier, who presented it at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse recently. It was the horrific story of more than 100 African-Americans killed in a parish abutting New Orleans in the effort to suppress the post-Civil War Reconstruction voting base of the Republicans.

My point: suppression is suppression. Violence is of course worse, but so is trickery and legal shenanigans when the purpose is the same.

I worry about the Times on this beat and not just because of the headline. Hardly a week before the election they ran a story that essentially argued that African-American voters were not engaged and were ho-humming the whole affair, didn’t know Doug Jones, didn’t care about Roy Moore, and we’re sleep walking the election. Then a week later they are arguing that voter suppression didn’t work therefore the discussion about state by state efforts to suppress voters is now “complicated.”

We’re living in different realities in the United States for sure, but at the point we can’t even consistently agree of bedrock democratic values, the debate is over, and the country has lost.

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