Tear gas, billy clubs, water hoses, attack dogs and voter registration: We will not go back to that shameful history, that dark era of yesteryear through voter purges and Voter Id laws cropping up in states across the country

“We cannot and will not go back to the dark era of yesteryear when certain citizens could not vote in this country. We must fight tooth and nail, every step of the way, to extinguish efforts by some who would try to disenfranchise voters’ constitutional right to the ballot box” – Juanita Bratcher, Editor & Publisher of CopyLine Magazine

By Juanita Bratcher

I never thought that I would be writing an article in the Year 2012 on efforts by some legislators across this country whose ultimate goal is to pass legislation in the form of Voter ID laws that are expected to suppress the voting rights of minorities, the elderly, poor, handicapped and young voters – those most likely to vote for President Barack Obama in the 2012 Presidential Election.

Currently, in many State Legislatures across this country, there are elected officials who’re doing just that – passing Voter ID laws they claim will eliminate fraud in elections, but what they’re really aiming at is taking us back to the shameful era of the past through Voter ID laws that are certain to disenfranchise literally hundreds of thousands of voters in the upcoming 2012 elections, specifically the Presidential Election. And it appears to be a planned strategy hammered out to do just that.

But wait just a minute, here. If such legislation becomes law in any state, the state should be responsible for making sure that those affected are provided with a free ID instead of having to pay for one. Obviously, some registered voters or some wanting to become registered voters will not be able to afford one – financially – on their own. So it will certainly keep them away from the polls on Election Day.

In Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., he stated, “We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Certainly, there are echoing words in my mind from Theodore G. Bilbo who served two terms as Governor of Mississippi (1916-1920 and 1928-1932); and two terms as United States Senator from Mississippi (1935 to 1947). Bilbo’s words were in stark contrast to King’s remarks. Bilbo’s declaration made many years ago as to the possibility of blacks voting, declared: “Do not let a single Nigger register and vote. If you let a few register and vote this year, next year there will be twice as many, and the next thing you know the whole thing will be out of hand.”

Out of hand, eh? Maybe that’s what some of today’s elected officials are thinking: keep the vote down, specifically on those who would possibly vote for President Barack Obama and deny him a second term in the White House.

Can you imagine that? Think about what Bilbo said …“will be out of hand.” Out of hand how? That too many Blacks would be going to the polls to exercise their right to vote on any given Election Day?

Most of us know the history of this country when it comes to voting rights. And for those who don’t know or have forgotten the details of what happened during that time, here is a brief scenario:

There was a time in the United States of America when African-Americans and women could not vote in our country. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, granted voting rights to African-American males, and the 19th Amendment, ratified in 1920, granted all women the right to vote.

When African Americans were denied the right to vote in this country, they had no political power or political influence. “Negroes” as they were then called, didn’t have the right to vote for anything. They made no decisions as to how government was run, notwithstanding decisions as to whether they would be a free man/woman in this country, and at the time, were recognized as three-fifths of a person.

Reportedly, according to documented history, during voter registration drives in Alabama, when African-Americans showed up at the Registrar’s Office to register, registrars would conduct slowdown days to frustrate or delay their efforts.

In their efforts to register to vote, Blacks encountered various barriers. They faced hostile law enforcement officials that were indifferent to their being there to register in the first place. They were faced with literacy tests designed to make it difficult and deny them the right to register to vote. It was established by the U.S. Justice Department that in many counties the tests were administered unfairly. And at that time, voting was mostly under state control.

The poll tax was used as a barrier in many southern states where blacks were excluded from the voting booth. Poll taxes were a suffrage pre-requisite by eleven ex-confederate states; and blacks were the intended victims.

The family of Rev. George Lee felt the sharp emotional pains of his courageous actions to register Black voters in 1954, which ultimately cost him his life.

Lee, a businessman, and the first Black person to register to vote in Humphreys County since Reconstruction, printed and passed out leaflets urging Blacks to pay their poll tax so they could register to vote. Reportedly, incensed Whites responded by putting the names of all Blacks eligible to vote on a hit list, circulating it to white businessmen who retaliated by firing them from their jobs, denying them credit and raising their rent.

Lee knew his days were numbered, but he ignored the pleas of his wife, Rose, to back off. On Saturday before Mother’s Day in 1955, Lee was driving home when gunfire from a passing car blew half his face off. He was shot to death on a neighborhood street May 7, 1955. Reportedly, Lee had been offered protection by white officials on the condition he would end his voter registration efforts. Notwithstanding the evidence and the fact that everybody in town knew who did it, the sheriff concluded that Lee died of unknown causes.

Medgar Evers, a civil rights leader and head of the NAACP’s Mississippi branch, was murdered June 12, 1963, by a sniper’s bullet because of his efforts to register Black voters in Mississippi. After arriving home after midnight, he was ambushed by a sniper hiding in a clump of sweet gum trees. He was shot through the back with a .30-06 military rifle. The weapon was found in a thicket nearby. Byron De La Beckwith’s fingerprints were found on the weapon. He was charged with murder. But two all-Whites, all male juries, deadlocked and failed to reach verdicts.

But in 1994 – 30 years later, after an eight-day trial, justice was served in the same courtroom where the two deadlocked verdicts were announced. A racially mixed jury, consisting of eight Blacks and four Whites, found Beckwith guilty, and the 73-year-old man was sentenced to life in prison.

Two white civil rights activists, Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal divinity student from Cambridge, Massachusetts, died in Lowndes County, Alabama, and Father Richard Morrisroe, a Roman Catholic priest from Chicago, was seriously wounded during voter registration drives in Selma, Alabama.

Three civil rights volunteers – Andrew Goodman, White, 23 years old; Michael Schwerner, White, 24 years old, and James Chaney, Black, 21 years old, were victims of a Ku Klux Klan conspiracy. They were murdered in Mississippi while on a mission to help register black voters there. They disappeared in a small town in Mississippi, and subsequently were found dead in an earthen dam.

Violence erupted in Alabama when Alabama officials brutally attacked hundreds of marchers who were also subjected to police violence in their quest to emphasize the need for a voting rights bill stalled in the Congress. The march was held in Selma, Alabama, where hundreds walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King was the driving force behind the march and was credited for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination in public accommodations, employment and education, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which permitted federal examiners to supersede local officials and register black voters in certain circumstances, giving broader participation of Blacks in the political and electoral processes. By 1967, more than half of eligible Blacks were registered in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia and South Carolina, enabling more black candidates than ever before to be elected to public office. There was also the Fair Housing Act of 1968, and in 1982, the Voting Rights Act was strengthened and extended for 25 years.

The poll tax, according to a member of the 1890 Mississippi Constitutional Convention’s Franchise Committee, was “the most effective instrumentality of Negro disenfranchisement.” One woman talked about her father paying a $45 poll tax and having to eat a little less because of it, while others chose to eat rather than vote.

In Selma, Alabama, a fierce and bloody battleground in Black’s quest to register to vote, there were mounting problems with slow registrars, and a limited number of days and hours that the Registrar’s Office would be open. Out of 15,000 blacks eligible to vote in Selma and surrounding Dallas County during the time of the Selma march (March 1965), less than 350 were registered.

But no matter the severity of the task to bring about change, no matter the abuse and violence they faced, no matter the racial hatred they encountered, Blacks refused to take their eyes off the prize. They wanted the right to vote as any other citizen and they kept up their fight under undesirable circumstances.

They fought every step of the way, valiant and forthright in their efforts to overthrow bigotry and racism, and open up the ballot box to blacks. And they never thought about surrendering to those injustices being heaped upon them.

There was a dire need for political reform. And even though the desire was there on the part of black citizens to transform the political process, many of them could not read and write. That set up roadblocks for them. And because of this, they were systematically being barred from the ballot box. Their voting rights were either denied or abridged. Yet, when it seemed to be creeping along somewhat toward the road to victory, literacy tests were used as roadblocks on the part of the establishment to further stop their efforts.

In his contributing introduction to my book, “Lest We Never Forget: The Power of the Ballot ©,” some of which is a part of this article, prominent Justice R. Eugene Pincham (now deceased), declared: “It is glaringly apparent why the oppressive power structure, throughout the years in America, has gone to the extent that it has gone to prevent black participation in government and to deny the ballot to blacks – physical violence and even death, intimidation, the poll tax, the literacy test, the Grandfather Clause, and other devious schemes.”

It appears that Pincham’s words are a definitive description of the so-called Voter ID laws that are now permeating in many state legislatures around the country. That’s why we must fight back these atrocious legislations of injustice! And our efforts must be penetrating and remain intact.

Reportedly, about 34 states have legislation passed or pending that would require a picture photo to vote. Other ways voters are being disenfranchised are through the abandonment of same-day voter registration, reduction of early voting periods (early voting prior to elections), proof of citizenship (birth certificate, etc.) and other voter suppression efforts. Many of these suppressive efforts are detailed in reports by the Brennan Center, New York University’s School of Law. The most recent one is titled, “Voting Law Changes in 2012”.

According to Wikipedia, the Voter ID laws in the United States are laws requiring identification to vote at the polls. The voter identification is required to vote in many of the 50 U.S. states and U.S. territories. The first Voter ID laws were passed in 2003, and as of September 2011, 30 U.S. states require some form of photo or non-photo identification. The identification required to submit a ballot differs by state law, and may differ by de facto voting procedures.

The following is a Timeline from Wikipedia on Voter ID law activity in the United States:

  • 2003, Voter ID laws passed in Alabama, [32][33] Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.[34]
  • 2005: New voter ID laws were passed in Indiana, New Mexico and Washington; Georgia tightened an existing voter ID law to require photo ID
  • 2006: New voter ID law passed in Ohio; Georgia passed a law providing for the issuance of voter ID cards at no cost to registered voters who do not have a driver’s license or state-issued ID card; Missouri tightened an existing voter ID law to require photo ID
  • 2008: New Mexico relaxed an existing voter ID law, and now allows a voter to satisfy the ID requirement by stating his/her name, address as registered, and year of birth
  • 2009: New voter ID law passed in Utah
  • 2010: New voter ID law passed in Idaho; Oklahoma voters approved a voter ID proposal placed on the ballot by the Legislature
  • 2011: New voter ID laws passed in Kansas, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas tightened existing voter ID laws to require photo ID.[35] Justice Department rejected South Carolina’s law as placing an undue burden disproportionately on minority voters.[36]
  • 2012: Two state circuit judges in Dane County, Wisconsin block the ID requirement provisions of that state’s law, with the first judge issuing a temporary injunction, followed by the second judge a week later ruling the requirement in violation of the Wisconsin Constitution.[37] The fate of the law is uncertain, as the Republican-led State Department of Justice fights the ruling in court.[38]
  • 2012: New voter ID law passed in Pennsylvania.[39] Justice Department rejected the Texas law as placing an undue burden disproportionately on minority voters.[40]

We should make certain that in the U.S.A., democracy is provided to every American citizen/voter, that they have a right to the ballot box without quick fixes put in place for political reasons to deny them that right and disenfranchise thousands of voters in the process.