My mother was proud of this tradition. She was born before women had the vote. In the Senate, 82 percent of Republicans and 54 percent of Democrats supported women’s suffrage. She volunteered to help the League of Women Voters register new voters. In a republic, voting is fundamental.
The Republicans’ proud tradition of expanding suffrage was still apparent 100 years after the Civil War. The two great accomplishments resulting from the civil rights movement were the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In the House of Representatives, 82 percent of the Republicans and 78 percent of the Democrats supported the Voting Rights Act. In the Senate, 94 percent of the Republicans voted for it, along with 73 percent of the Democrats.
Republicans have a justifiably proud tradition of supporting voting rights. In 2006, the renewal of the Voting Rights Act was unanimous in the Senate, 98-0!
But things have changed.
Today, Republican officials across the country are in court, accused of violating the Voting Rights Act. Republican-controlled state legislatures have introduced 60 bills, many worded identically, that are designed to depress the vote of minorities and other groups that tend to vote Democratic.
In the past few weeks, courts in Texas, Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania have enjoined restrictive laws from taking effect that conflict with the Voting Rights Act.
A federal court in Texas voided the Republican-designed redistricting map because it was drawn with “discriminatory purpose.” Texas’ population grew by 4.3 million since the previous census, adding four congressional seats. Almost 90 percent of the increase in population is made up of minorities. Yet there were fewer, not more, minority-controlled districts under the legislature’s redistricting.
A different court in Texas unanimously threw out a restrictive voter ID law. Many counties in Texas don’t have a Department of Public Safety office where one might apply for a photo ID. Acquiring a proper ID might require as much as a 250-mile trip. The court said, “Such a journey would be especially daunting for the working poor.”
Most of the people who do not possess a current driver’s license or passport are poor or elderly, and they tend to be Democrats.
Another federal court unanimously overruled a new Florida law that would restrict periods for early voting, a provision that is particularly useful for blue-collar workers and minorities.
Another Florida action was the vote to rescind a state law allowing felons to petition for restoration of their voting rights. Sixty percent of Florida felons are minorities.
A third Florida law designed to suppress the vote of Democrat-registered voters was a new law that made voter registration by independent groups like the League of Women Voters more difficult. A federal judge has blocked the restrictions.
This past year, 11,365 new Democrats in Florida registered to vote, compared with 159,000 in 2008. The effort of the Republicans to eliminate Democratic voters was quite successful before the courts intervened to protect citizens’ right to vote.
In Ohio, the Republican-dominated legislature passed rules that shortened extended voting days in Democrat-majority counties while keeping the extra days in Republican counties. A federal court has intervened, requiring Ohio to return to the previous rules that allowed extended voting everywhere.
In Wisconsin, a photo ID law was passed that is designed to suppress minority and student voters. Two judges have enjoined officials from carrying out the voter ID law.
Speaker Mike Turzai of the Pennsylvania State House bragged to his Republican caucus: “We passed voter ID, which is going to allow Gov. (Mitt) Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania!” There are 757,000 Pennsylvanians who voted in 2008 who do not possess a current driver’s license or passport.
A judge in Pennsylvania observed that there had been no prosecutions, or even investigations, of voter ID fraud in the state. There was no case of two people showing up at the polls claiming to be the same voter.
Surely, there must be Republicans who recognize the contradictions between their party’s traditional support for voting rights and the GOP’s current strategy of disenfranchising voters.
• Mickey McGuire, a retired high school social studies teacher, is one of several local residents with occasional columns that run in the Tracy Press.