Virginia holds elections every year. This week, Virginia held primaries throughout the state to sort Democratic and Republican primary challengers for the honor to carry their party’s banner on the November ballot. In Culpeper, Democrat Amy Laufer in the 17th Senate and Democrat Laura Galante in the 18th House of Delegate’s races were successful. Republicans Bryce Reeves in the 17th Senate and Emmett Hanger in the 24th Senate race will represent their party in November.
In school, we were always taught voting was the pinnacle of American representative democracy. Government of the people, by the people and for the people. Nothing could be more emblematic of American citizenship than voting. However, voter suppression is putting our citizenship and democracy in jeopardy. Voter suppression comes in all different forms: subtle and not so subtle. Subtle is what we saw in Virginia with the gerrymandering of the population around the 4th Congressional district to collect African-American voters together. The courts ordered a redrawing of multiple electoral districts.
Then there is North Carolina. A combination of Jim Crow discrimination, economics, and tradition meant that many African-American births were not officially registered. Therefore, the Republican-led North Carolina legislature developed voter identification requirements that required a birth certificate. The North Carolina Supreme Court struck down this voter ID requirements and admonished the legislature for creating a block to voting that was “surgically precise.” In Wisconsin, where President Trump won by 22,748 votes, 200,000 people were prevented from voting due to strict voter ID laws.
In the subtle category, along with gerrymandering, state legislatures have the power to increase or decrease the number of polling stations, change the times they are open, and generally make it harder for particular groups to vote. Republican-controlled North Carolina reduced the number of early voting stations in 2016, which the legislature itself stated resulted in an 8.5 percent reduction in early voting by Black voters, leading to a 6 percent drop in their share of the early vote.
Not so subtle are aggressive voter purge practices fostered by Republican led-legislatures, which a non-partisan Brennan Center report portend a considerable threat to all marginalized communities.
In Georgia, where the Secretary of State oversaw the very election in which he was competing, 70% of the 53,000 held-up voter registration applications were from African-Americans. In Texas, the Republican governor threw 95,000 Texans with Hispanic names off the voter rolls. The Secretary of State had to resign when the effort was exposed. In North Dakota, a Republican pushed voter identification law predominantly targeted Native American voters on reservations.
In Ohio, the Supreme Court narrowly upheld a controversial law that purges voters from the registration rolls if they don’t vote in two federal election cycles. There are similar stories of aggressive voter suppression laws in Nevada, Wisconsin, and other states.
Finally, also in the category of not-so-subtle attacks on the American voting system are the Russian efforts catalogued in Volume I of the Mueller Report. It happened; it was serious. The whole Russian effort amounts to voter suppression because we could lose our faith in the sanctity of our elections if nothing is done to thwart Russian activity.
President John Kennedy, in his inaugural address said, “This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.” He would have understood that voting was an inseparable part of citizenship. We should all re-commit ourselves to this basic American principle of citizenship that we have inherited from the Founding Fathers.
Editor’s note: this op-ed originally appeared in the Culpeper Star Exponent, and has been re-posted here with the author's permission.
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