by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
Hillary is getting undeserved praise for her stand on voting rights, which is way too little, and factually less than some of her apologists want us to believe. But she's a Democrat. After blowing the historic 40 year window during which a Constitutional right to vote amendment might have been passed she and her party have no intention of actually leading a fight for voting rights. But it's not too late to start waging that fight ourselves.
Way Too Little, But Not Too Late: Hillary & Dems Fake the Funk on Voting Rights
by BAR managing editor Bruce A. Dixon
You know it's presidential election season when big Democrats start talking about voting rights, and making it easier to vote, hopefully in time for the upcoming election. What big black and white Democrats don't discuss much is what they actually DID about voting rights in the forty-some years between passage of the Voting Rights Act and its near annulment by the Roberts Supreme Court in 2012.
To hear the chorus of Democratic party hacks and apologists nowadays Hillary Clinton's recent statements are harbingers of a new activism on the voting rights front. She has after all, called for measures to make it easier, not more difficult to vote, though she and her many partisans have little or no legislative proposals pending that would actually accomplish this.
In recent days Hillary has come out for same day voter registration and voting, and easing back onerous ID requirements many states have instituted to deliberately exclude millions of perfectly legal citizens from the polls. Good. She says there ought to be national standards for voting machines and a national standard of no less than 20 days of early voting that include evenings and weekends. Also good.
But this is about as far as Hillary will go on this. In the familiar tradition of encouraging Democrat base voters to believe hopeful things their presidential candidate will not actually say, Salon.com.s Sean McElwee baldly asserts that candidate Hillary favors the rollback of felony disenfranchisement. Maybe she does. But since she hasn't said so herself, that makes McElwee a pandering liar.
Maybe Salon's fact checkers were out sipping latte that morning.
The passage of the 1967 Voting Rights Act was a milestone that basically restored the voting rights of citizens of African descent throughout the country. Beginning in the early 1970s its enforcement led to the setting aside of discriminatory laws and practices from Chattanooga to Chicago and from Florida to Wisconsin to Kansas to California. The number of black elected officials rose from around 2,000 in the early 1970s to more than 12,000 today, a prosperous and striving layer of lawyers and non-elected functionaries of all kinds from ambassadors and lobbyists to prison guards sprung into existence.
But the short sighted beneficiaries of the Voting Rights Act simply took the opportunity for what it was, without trying to consolidate or extend it. For more than a generation, throughout the seventies, the eighties and the nineties they held the strategic moral and political high ground. Who, during that time, would stand openly against protecting and extending voting rights?
The black political class, who are almost entirely Democrats, along with white Democrats had almost a 30 year window during which they might have placed black voting rights beyond the reach of racist judges, venal county officials, state governors and legislatures, the minions of ALEC and the Koch Brothers, or the Republican Party, who during that same time fashioned themselves into the party of white outrage. Democrats could have accomplished this by pushing, in the seventies, the eighties and the nineties, for a Constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote. But they didn't.
In the US, all other laws are subordinate to the Constitution. City councils, Congress and state legislatures can't pass laws that contradict the Constitution, and judges are obliged to frame their rulings to conform with provisions of the Constitution and its amendments.
Some of the likely effects of a constitutional right to vote amendment include
National standards for voter registration, and absentee balloting
National standards for the operation and purchase and deployment of voting machines
National standards for how votes are counted
An immediate end to felony disenfranchisement, since states would have no power to revoke a right granted by the federal Constitution.
An end to voter caging, selective ID laws, provisional voting, vigilante poll watching and many other practices
An end to gerrymandering and discriminatory use of at large and other voting schemes deployed to reduce the significance of minority voters
In any era, amending the Constitution is not for the lazy or faint of heart. It requires either a constitutional convention called by two thirds of the House and Senate, or the approval of 38 out of the 50 state legislatures. It's a long and a hard fight, requiring widespread grassroots mobilizations sustained for months or years. Democrats, Democratic activists, and Democratic political consultants all congratulated themselves on how smart they were for ignoring the long game and settled into the business of electing and re-electing each other, and ceaselessly celebrating the victories of the previous generation upon which they did nothing to build.
By 1983, when Harold Washington was elected Chicago's first black mayor, local black registration and turnout substantially passed white electoral participation demonstrating the potential that mobilization of the black vote had for undermining the Voting Rights Act's actual judgment. It was a warning lost on the black political class and the Democratic party. Hillary's husband Bill Clinton signed the Motor Voter Act into law, but by the mid-1990s organized resistance on the part of local and state governments to the expansion of voting rights was a real and growing phenomenon. Republican governors even in northern states like Illinois refused to enforce it, and most elected Democrats refused to make much of a fuss about it. Florida was among the first states to make minor and inadvertent clerical errors by volunteer registrars into felonies with two and five year minimums, leading the League of Women Voters to abandon its traditional voter registration drives.
The sole exception to Democratic inaction occurred in the 111th Congress, when Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. introduced a bill leading to a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote. It went nowhere. By then the common Democratic wisdom was simply to use, not expand upon or extend voting rights, so neither the CBC, Democrat activists or Democratic presidential candidates took up the challenge of pushing it.
For more than 30 years, Democrats and Democratic party activists, including the entire black political misleadership class, studiously ignored the opportunity to expand and secure black voting rights by fighting to elevate them to Constitutional rights, until that opportunity did what ignored opportunities usually do, and went away. Democrats and the black political class took advantage of the Voting Rights Act to establish their own careers as elected officials and fixers, appointed political luminaries and functionaries, and empowered lawyers, academics and media spokespeople. They boasted and roasted, they toasted and they coasted.
Senators John Kerry and Barack Obama, from their seats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, had the chance to block the nomination of John Roberts, a known opponent of voting rights, as chief justice with filibusters. After a little noise they decided otherwise. In 2013 Chief Justice Roberts decisively kneecapped the Voting Rights Act, claiming that since black voting rights were no longer in danger, the VRA's enforcement mechanism was no longer constitutional.
If Hillary and the Democrats were serious about guaranteeing voting rights you'd hear more than a handful of narrow proposals. You'd hear a call for that constitutional amendment, and you'd see equivalent legislation and amendments to state constitutions popping up everywhere Democrats thought they could pass them, and as mobilization tools, in some places where they knew they couldn't, at least this year. You'd see a multi-year plan for a real fight, everywhere that Democrats have a base.
But Hillary ain't about that, and her Democrats are not about it either. They're faking the funk. Hillary's voting rights proposals are just noise, white noise for election year, that neither she nor her party has the least intent to follow up on.
For what it's worth, the only party that embraces the idea of a constitutional right to vote is the Green Party, which is barred from ballot access to one extent or another in about half the states. That's one reason why I am a Green, not a Democrat, not even a Democrat In Denial. Democrats seem not to care much about third party ballot access as a voting rights issue either, because they can't withstand any competition on their left. It's not too late to demand and begin organizing for what Hillary and her crew dare not even mention, adding the right to vote to the US Constitution. But Hillary and her party will not help, they want no part of that.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He lives and works near Marietta GA, where he is a partner in an IT firm and serves on the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.