Of all the long-standing traditions characterizing the history of the Republican Party on the American political landscape, voter suppression may be edging its way into first place on the list – if it hasn’t already earned that dubious distinction, thanks to the Sunshine State GOP doing more than its fair share of heavy lifting.
In the latest episode of the serial melodrama that is the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) vs. the Eligible Voters of Florida, Governor Rick Scott’s Secretary of State Kurt Browning has now filed a legal challenge against the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In truth, up until passage and subsequent enforcement of that landmark legislation by Democratic President Lyndon Johnson and a Democratic Congress, “direct disenfranchisement” tactics like poll taxes and literacy tests were used by both parties in the South to prevent African Americans from exercising the voting rights granted them by the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, although ratified in 1870, it wasn’t until the late 1960s that voting rights and laws were finally being upheld and enforced…for the most part…well, more than ever before.
But here in the 21st Century, the two parties could not have diverged more in their approach to voting rights. The Democratic Party has fought – without consistently solid strategy or results – to support, advance and protect them. Meanwhile, the Republican Party has systematically done the opposite – with better strategy and results.
From the disaster that was the 2000 presidential election, right up to 2011 RPOF passage of a new voter suppression law, there’s no better example of that modern-day trend, than Florida.
In 2000 there were the crazy hanging chadbutterfly ballots that many still remember, plus less-remembered road-blocking of voters trying to reach the polls in minority neighborhoods, and illegitimate purging of thousands of ex-felons from voter rolls; which taken together gave George W. Bush his 537-vote margin of “victory” in Florida, thereby changing the course of American history forever.
The most influential man on the national political scene rapidly became Karl Rove, “Bush’s Brain” as many (Democrats anyway) came to call him. Rove engineered, refined and perfected the modern-day Republican voter suppression strategy.
In 2011, Republican Party of Florida “hard right-wing conservatives”in hammerlock control of the state added some wrinkles of their own to the mix, passing a new anti-voting rights law with an old purpose – suppressing the vote of those perceived as “oppositional”. The law shamelessly targets young/minority voters, Early Voting, and voter registration drives that the RPOF fears might help Democrats earn victories.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has now launched a 2012 Election Protection Project to help educate and activate people about the new voter suppression laws passed in Florida and dozens of other states nationwide. And the ACLU of Florida has filed suit to overturn the Sunshine State’s particularly onerous version of “Block The Vote, 2012”.
Yet little more than a year before the Big Election, It remains to be seen how far the citizens of Florida will go to take matters into their own hands in the face of this full frontal assault on their voting rights.
It’s worth remembering that what Governor Scott and the RPOF are doing to disenfranchise perceived Democratic voters, if allowed to stand, could then be adapted by future Democratic governors and legislators to suppress the voting rights of Republicans, or Tea Party members.
If ever there seemed to be a non-partisan issue that everyone could get worked up about and rally around, it would seem to be the need to restore, protect, preserve and promote everyone’s equal, constitutional right to vote – for the benefit of all political parties and persuasions, in the name of American Democracy.
(Note: This column originally published at saintpetersblog.com)