• Ryan

Dastardly Acts

“[...] To deny a person the right to exercise his political freedom at the polls is no less a dastardly act as to deny a Christian the right to petition God in prayer.”

It is perhaps somewhat blasé for a white writer to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when writing about racism or oppression, but his words are ubiquitous in the discussion for a reason. While you may quibble with the importance of religion, the illustration is clear: the right to exercise one’s political freedom is a sacred tenet of democracy. Dr. King wrote those words in the New York Amsterdam News while the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was on the precipice of being signed but was held up in committee. That a bill written to guarantee the right to vote to minorities met resistance should come as a surprise, but of course, it does not.

Part of the reason that it is unsurprising is that it is now 56 years later, and despite the ultimate passage of the Voting Rights Act, the right to vote is as much a target as it ever has been. There is a movement in both state and federal legislatures and fights being waged in courts around the country to restrict ballot access under the guise of election security- a concern entirely based on conspiracy theories. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 389 bills aimed at restricting voting rights were introduced in 48 states. As of June 21, 28 of those bills were enacted as laws in 17 states.

Many of these bills are aimed at mail-in ballots. State legislatures have moved to restrict the windows in which a voter may apply for mail-in ballots; they have made it more challenging to remain on absentee ballot lists; they make signature requirements on mail-in ballots much stricter. Mail-in and absentee voting has been a critical piece in allowing people who, whether for work, school, or other reasons, are away from their voting precinct at election time. Military members, in particular, have made use of vote by mail since the American Revolution. More importantly, the elderly, impoverished, and people with disabilities rely heavily on systems that allow them to vote without traveling to a specific polling location. It should not escape your notice, as it indeed has not escaped the notice of those who would pass these restrictive laws, that people of color are disproportionately represented among the impoverished.

The playbook also includes a few classics. Voter ID laws are notoriously discriminatory and are among the laws recently passed in some states. Reducing polling place availability is a copy of the tried-and-true method of restricting abortion access and is, of course, aimed at limiting the minority vote. There are also the somewhat infamous and completely arbitrary bans on providing food and water for people waiting in line to vote in Florida and Georgia. All introduced as ballot integrity measures, but all more likely to “target [minority voters] with almost surgical precision.”

When Thomas Jefferson wrote that the equality of all men was a self-evident truth, he had a deeply flawed concept of who was included in that category. We know better, and it is a moral obligation that we do all we can to protect and expand the right to vote. In order to defend voting rights, it's important to know where attacks against it are coming from. To that end, I recommend checking the Brennan Center's coverage of voting rights regularly. We here at Continue to Serve have also started compiling a list of laws pertaining to voting rights, and will continue to update it as we find more.


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