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CI: The Year of the Vote

January 04, 2012 at 7:00 pm by: nancy a heitzeg Category: 2012 Election, Anti-Racism, Civil Rights, Criminal Injustice Series, Education, Intersectionality, Prison Industrial Complex, Prisoner Rights, Voting Rights

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Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.

The Year of the Vote
by Nancy A. Heitzeg

“In 1965, when President Johnson signed the landmark Voting Rights Act into law, he proclaimed that, ‘the right to vote is the basic right, without which all others are meaningless.’

Obama Vote by Shephard Fairey

Today, as Attorney General, I have the privilege – and the solemn duty – of enforcing this law, and the other civil rights reforms that President Johnson championed. This work is among the Justice Department’s most important priorities. And our efforts honor the generations of Americans who have taken extraordinary risks, and willingly confronted hatred, bias, and ignorance – as well as billy clubs and fire hoses, bullets and bombs – to ensure that their children, and all American citizens, would have the chance to participate in the work of their government. The right to vote is not only the cornerstone of our system of government – it is the lifeblood of our democracy. And no force has proved more powerful – or more integral to the success of the great American experiment – than efforts to expand the franchise.

Despite this history, and despite our nation’s long tradition of extending voting rights – to non-property owners and women, to people of color and Native Americans, and to younger Americans – today, a growing number of our fellow citizens are worried about the same disparities, divisions, and problems that – nearly five decades ago – LBJ devoted his Presidency to addressing. In my travels across this country, I’ve heard a consistent drumbeat of concern from many Americans, who – often for the first time in their lives – now have reason to believe that we are failing to live up to one of our nation’s most noble, and essential, ideals.”

~ Attorney General Eric Holder Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum, 12/13/2011


Voter Suppression Efforts in 2012

As we enter another election cycle, our most urgent challenge will be to ensure that the right to vote and the right to have that vote counted is protected. It comes as no surprise that this “basic right, without which all others are meaningless” has come under massive attack as we prepare to re-elect the first Black POTUS, who was swept into office by voters of color, youth and women.

Voter suppression efforts take a variety of forms. Certainly there are the blatant efforts to legislatively restrict access to the franchise via legal barriers such as recent changes that require voter identification and documentation of citizenship, limit early and absentee voting, make voter registration more difficult and further restrict the voting rights of former felons. These tactics are favored by the right, and disproportionately impact communities of color particularly African Americans, Latino/as and American Indians. Recent research of felony disenfranchisement alone, for example, indicates that felony disenfranchisement and the over-representation by race has already and will continue to impact the outcome of both national and state-level elections. In all cases, Republicans benefit.

Voter suppression occurs in less direct ways as well, and again these tactics are primarily those of the right, but are occasionally stoked by the disaffected left. Examples here include relentlessly negative campaigning which reduces voter turn-out, thinly coded appeals to racial fears, and calls to sit out elections, or vote third party in protest.

This is what we are up against in 2012. And up against it in an election cycle that will be — courtesy of the SCOTUS and Citizens United v Federal Election Commission (2010) – awash in unlimited, unprecedented gushers of corporate money.

As the year progresses, CI will continue to detail these disenfranchisement efforts and offer action options towards resistance and successful GOTV. For now, here is a brief over-view of the current landscape.

Legal Barriers to Voting

Since the 2010 midterms, a wave of voter suppression laws (furthered by ALEC and funded by Koch brothers $$$) were passed by newly elected Republicans.

While the full scope and impact of these new laws has yet to be seen, the Brennan Center for Justice recently offered the first comprehensive analysis to date:

These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities. This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election. Based on the Brennan Center’s analysis of the 19 laws and two executive actions that passed in 14 states, it is clear that:

~ These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.

~ The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

~ Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions.

States have changed their laws so rapidly that no single analysis has assessed the overall impact of such moves. Although it is too early to quantify how the changes will impact voter turnout, they will be a hindrance to many voters at a time when the United States continues to turn out less than two thirds of its eligible citizens in presidential elections and less than half in midterm elections.

The status of these laws is continually evolving. Just last week, The Justice Department rejected South Carolina’s voter identification law as in violation of the Voting Rights Act. This may signal further action on the part of the DOJ. Stay tuned.

Negative Campaigning, Criminalizing Narratives, and Fear

For nearly 50 years now, the Republican Party has relied on appeals to the racial fears of whites. Lee Atwater, adviser to Nixon, Reagan and George H.W. Bush and the architect of the so-called “southern strategy”, explained in a 1981 interview:

”You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘N#$%*r, n#$%*r, n#$%*r.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘n#$%*r’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.

”And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, ‘We want to cut this,’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘N#$%*r, n#$%*r.”’

Often this tactic is most successful when tied to “law and order” themes and the criminalizing archetypes that portray black women as chiseling “welfare queens”, youth of color as “super-predators” and black males as “rapists and thugs”.

Two words – Willie Horton.

Two more: Herman Cain, whose manufactured minstrel show run amok served both as attempted GOP inoculation against racism and re-enforcer of the theme of Black Man as Sexual Predator.

Of course, the appeals to racial hysteria are only magnified when the target is the first Black POTUS. And all right wing the madness of the past four years and the madness yet to come is about race — from You lie!” to birthers to a tea-party gone woefully wrong, to this recent Fox news question – ” How long do you think Sean Hannity’s show would last if four times in one sentence, he made a comment about, say, the President of the United States, and said that he looked like a skinny, ghetto crackhead? Which, by the way, you might want to say that Barack Obama does.”

It has been from the start:

This noise is about race. It is about “othering” a President who is seen as a symbol of white dispossession: dispossession of white hegemony, white entitlement, white expectation, and white power, unquestioned and unchallenged from the darker skinned other. This is what animates the every move of the angry masses, individual exceptions notwithstanding. Unless the left begins pushing back, and insisting that yes, the old days are gone, white hegemony is dead, and deserved its demise, and that we will all be better off for it, the chorus of white backlash will only grow louder. So too will it grow more effective at dividing and conquering the working people who would benefit–all of them–from a new direction.

And the left has not pushed back hard enough. While racist appeals are the forte of the right wing, the left, in more subtle color-blind fashion – has exhibited racist tendencies of its own. As Melissa Harris-Perry puts it, “… liberal electoral racism is the willingness to abandon a black candidate when he is just as competent as his white predecessors”. The obsession on the person of Obama as the sole arbiter of all legislative outcomes even with a GOP controlled Congress, the impatience – Obama as the “one black friend that we didn’t even think of as black” who just couldn’t fix 40 plus years of conservative mess in 15 minutes, the blithe fixation on class coupled with the abject refusal to discuss the impact of race/racism on the current socio-political climate, and the most recent calls for primary or third party options, all, in the end, work to dampen voter enthusiasm and suppress turn-out.

All these efforts – right and left- will escalate. Be prepared to recognize and challenge them.

Action for 2012

In the coming weeks and months, CI will continue to offer information and resources to counter voter suppression attempts.

Obey-Vote by Shepard Fairey

For now, here are some preliminary actions you can take:

~ Inform yourself and others on your states’ voting requirements. Vote411 is an excellent starting place.

~ Sign the Stand for Freedom pledge for Voting Rights and read the NAACP’s new Report – Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America -for additional actions.

~ Help the Color of Change Stop Corporate Funded Voter Suppression

~ Expose ALEC

~ Support the Department of Justice‘s recent efforts to challenge voter id laws

~ Join Organizing for America. The re-election of Barack Obama and the return of Congress to Democratic control is imperative. No, Urgent.

~ Commit to bringing at least one first-time voter to the polls with you. Start Now.

“So, let us act – with optimism and without delay. Let us rise to the challenges – and overcome the divisions – of our time. Let us signal to the world that – in America today – the pursuit of a more perfect union lives on.

And, in the spirit of Lyndon Baines Johnson, let us continue.”

~ Attorney General Eric Holder Lyndon Baines Johnson Library & Museum, 12/13/2011

35 comments
Seeta Persaud
Seeta Persaud

Happy New Year CI! Sorry I am so late.   I am emerging from all the holiday festivities. Distressing article, but  right on point, Nancy.  Thank you for making this info so easily accessible!

Vikki
Vikki

Coming in super-late, but wanted to chime in and say thank you for breaking all this information down into manageable pieces. One of the outcomes of the Formerly Incarcerated and Convicted People's Movement gathering this past November was a resolution to register 1 million (formerly incarcerated) voters for this year's election:  http://unprison.com/2011/11/10/out-of-l-a-ficpm-will-register-1-million-voters-opposed-to-mass-incarceration/  
and
http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tucson/voting-for-change/Content?oid=3137109

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

thank you vikki!

greatly appreciate the links  -- wonderful!

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

Thank you sage - so glad to see you !

here is to 2012!

TiMT
TiMT

Right backatcha (((((Kay)))))

TiMT
TiMT

Happy New Year indie and hope all is well with you.

Looking forward to your essay on the VRA challenges. Thanks!

TiMT
TiMT

Ruby the great. It has been a long time. Skipping over the details, I am fired up and ready to go as of the New Years. My short break from politics is over and ready to kick some you know what.

Nice to see you always and Happy New Year my sistah!

TiMT
TiMT

What can I say sister Nancy except say that your essay is beautifully done!

This is a message for all ears to hear. We may look like we are living in a post racial society but systemic racism is everywhere and has been alive for decades even after the Civil Rights Act and each day the Republican's are looking to find a way to cheat us by passing bogus laws that will disenfranchise many people of color.

Today more than ever, we must expose these coded bigoted acts of the Republicans and their racists policies. We must ensure that every American of voting age has their one vote protected.

Nancy, you have done a great job showing the effect these Republican legislations has had on voting rights to date and it's effect will indeed have massive implications in the 2012 election. A reason for all of us to not be complacent and working hard to register new voters.

I am fired up and ready to go! Happy New Year!

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

Fired Up and Ready to go here too!

Great to see you -- Happy New Year and thanks!

Yes We Will!  Again! :)

Kay Whitlock
Kay Whitlock

Hey, folks, my regular sign-in isn't working tonight, so I'm commenting and "liking" as a guest.  So if you see "and 1 more person" on your recs, that's probably me!  I'll try to get this sorted out, but it won't happen tonight!

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

thanks Kay -- disqus is not always user friendly :(

Kay Whitlock
Kay Whitlock

I could use a social media sign-in, but I am so contrarian about that!  

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

i'm with you!

anyway we always are fond of "and one more person" :)

Kay Whitlock
Kay Whitlock

Happy New Year to you, pal.  Yes, yes on the John Roberts history.

Here in Montana, our state supreme court recently delivered a resounding rebuke to Citizens United.  Read here: 

 http://www.truth-out.org/montana-state-supreme-court-citizens-united-not-welcome-here/1325688926

It makes me very proud of our state court, which also, just over a year ago, ruled in favor of a lesbian mom. 

But you KNOW we're going to be on a collision course with the U.S. Supreme Court.  

TiMT
TiMT

How are you doing sistah Kay? Happy New Year!

I agree that the SCOTUS is so politicized and tarnished in so many ways the collision has caused so much pain already. I don't see it acting in fairness and if I may say so...some of the people on the bench are the worst type of bigots. Unless that bench is cleaned up, there ain't going to be fairness to carry the law as intended. I would think a couple of seats will have to be replaced during the next President's term. That by itself is a reason for me to work harder.

Glad to hear Montana ain't having the BS. 

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

saw that the other day Kay -- wow!

more power to them

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

Yes!! the 18th is perfect!!

yes emma is still off for another month or so with the baby

if you need a contact there while she is away i can pass one on to you indie..

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

you are so right about Roberts

the decision to make him -- and at such a young age -- Chief Justice -- was another brillantly vil move

And we have seen what it has wrought in a series of very politically motivated case choice and  bad bad decisions..

Sigh..

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

does the week after next work indie??

we have an Equal Justice update on Paradise Lost for next  week

but the following is perfect

and i will visit :)

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

Thank you Ruby!

and yes to all you said -- we have got to do this !

Happy New Year to you my friend -- thanks for being here

Kay Whitlock
Kay Whitlock

hi, indie.  The Voting Rights Act is indeed in danger, and I think your  piece will be so important.   look forward to reading it.

Kay Whitlock
Kay Whitlock

hi, ruby---good to see you.  And you're so right.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

excellent!!

thank you so much  - you are the one to do this

and please link us to your blog -- i'll visit :)

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

Happy New Year indie!

and yes yes yes to VRA challenges! Will you do this for us?

Kay Whitlock
Kay Whitlock

Superb, Nancy, and thank you.  Voter suppression comes in all forms -
and it only ever advantages the Right, no matter what form it comes in.

I'll be working GOTV for President Obama and for Sen. Jon Tester here in Montana.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

btw the recent Greenwald debacle is  a case in point re criminalizing narratives --

more at TPV

http://www.thepeoplesview.net/2012/01/its-no-joke-glenn-greenwald-rape-and.html#disqus_thread

TiMT
TiMT

First day blogging in the New Year and more to come but I will have to read the GG debacle now as it seems that self righteous ass has again gone over board. I had missed it at TPV and heading out there now. Thanks.

nancy a heitzeg
nancy a heitzeg

Here is to our best ever GOTV efforts in 2012!

Lots of work ahead!