A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: While celebrating our war dead, let us not forget that they were defending the right to vote

Memorial Day is a curious sort of holiday. On one hand it celebrates the glorious onset of summer, featuring trips to the beach over a three-day weekend, while simultaneously providing Americans with a significantly more melancholy obligation – remembering those who sacrificed all in the nation’s defense.

Both have their place. But it’s fair to say memorializing the war dead carries greater import. The day therefore, among other things, offers an opportunity to reflect on where we are as a nation and how we are performing in tribute to their loss.

One thing it’s fair to say those true patriots were defending is the right to vote. Yet, by the time Memorial Day arrived earlier this week, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 360 voter suppression bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country. As of May 28, 14 states had enacted 22 new laws that restrict access to the vote.

The NKyTribune’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

It could have been worse. The so-called great state of Texas was well on its way to adopting the most regressive set of statutes since the days of Southern segregation when Democrats in the state legislature walked out, depriving proponents of a quorum in the closing day of the session, thus killing the bill, at least temporarily.

Regardless, the assault is not over. The Brennan Center reports that additional restrictions nationwide are in the offing. About one-third of the state legislatures remain in session. At least 61 bills with restrictive provisions remain for consideration in 18 state legislatures as of May 28, with 31 already having passed at least one chamber.

Overall, according to the Center, lawmakers have introduced at least 389 restrictive bills in 48 states this year alone.
This is serious business.

“Voter suppression bills are quickly becoming voter suppression laws,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center. “Now legislators have brazenly begun to pass measures that would give partisans the power to negate the will of voters. It’s a crisis in the making.”
The repression issues range widely, from restrictions on vote by mail — six laws shorten the timeframe for voters to request a mail ballot — to in person voting — three states have limited the availability of polling places. And then there are the usual efforts to require photo IDs without making the ability to obtain same more accessible to restrictions on providing food or water to those standing in voting line for extensive periods. The list can be found here: Voting Laws Roundup: May 2021 | Brennan Center for Justice.

It is just so happens that, of course, most of these new restrictions will have a deleterious effect on Black and Brown voters who already faced road blocks to exercising the franchise. African-American voters in many big cities more frequently face long lines on Election Day because officials refuse to provide sufficient polling places in minority neighborhoods. That situation is likely to only get worse.
Coincidence? Surely you jest.

The phony-baloney rationale for imposing additional barriers to the free vote is built on sand and can be traced back to our boy, his Orange Eminence, erstwhile Republican President Donald J. Trump, who has spent a better part of the year lying about the results of the 2020 election, which he lost by 7 million votes.

Trump, unable to face the truth that millions of Americans were fed up with his garbage and thus turned to President Joe Biden, the Democrat. The results, Trump insisted, were rigged, that he actually won both the popular and Electoral College votes in a tidal wave but his triumph was somehow stolen and he wants and deserves his old job back.

And pigs fly.

Trump, as anyone with a lick of sense realizes by this point, is delusional. His protests have been heard in the courts and by appropriate state election officials. All have essentially concluded he’s hallucinating. His hot air claims are ridiculous and there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud, the sort that can tip an election.

It was in defense of this whacky proposition that Trump instigated an assault by a large mob of his supporters on the Capitol building on Jan. 6 seeking to have Congress reject the Electoral College results. Five people died and more than a hundred injured in what can only be identified as an insurrection.

But in as cynical calculation as one can imagine, Republican legislators in various states like Georgia and Arizona have embraced Trump’s whoppers and proceeded to enact restrictive election laws under the guise of voter security. In yet another coincidence, the actions will assuredly work to the detriment of Democratic turnout and therefore benefit the GOP which, it should be noted, has captured the popular vote in a presidential election only once since 1988.

The Republican Party’s penchant for authoritarianism has been on full display since this entire campaign of oppression was hatched. Not only does it seek to benefit whoever Republicans put up for president in 2024 – perhaps a Trump rerun – it also performs a service for GOP lawmakers in those states where the party holds a statehouse majority. The party derives additional benefits there since congressional redistricting brought on by the 2020 Census is slated to be conducted in time for the 2022 election.

The campaign has not gone unnoticed here in Washington. Two bills – the For the People Act, also known as House Bill 1, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2021 – have both passed the House but are unlikely to survive a Senate filibuster led by – guess who – Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, of Louisville, who killed an effort to pass an earlier version of the For the People Act in 2019.

House Bill 1 would make it easier to vote in federal elections by promoting on-line voter registration and registering individuals to vote at the same time they provide personal information to government agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles. The idea is to increase participation – the U.S. maintains one of the lowest voter turnout rates among developed nations, with nearly one in four eligible voters not registered. It also would, among other things, end congressional gerrymandering, overhaul federal campaign finance laws, increase safeguards against foreign interference and strengthen government ethics rules.

The bill named for the late civil rights hero and congressman John Lewis would reinstate some sections of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 that were struck down by the Supreme Court.

McConnell, in that cynical, oily despicable way he has perfected, insisted Republicans “are not engaging in trying to suppress voters, whatsoever” and the For the People Act is a “solution in search of a problem.” 

“Our democracy is not in crisis and we are not going to let one party take over our democracy under the false pretense of saving it,” McConnell said.

Just how giving more power to the people to determine the path the nation should take constitutes a one-party takeover of democracy went unexplained, naturally.

Said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer, of New York, “We’re witnessing an attempt at the greatest contraction of voting rights since the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of Jim Crow.”

The bottom line is simple – you either believe in voting rights or you don’t. McConnell and the Republicans are laughing at the idea.

Mitch, your authoritarianism, not to mention your predilection to place party over country, is showing.

Related Posts

One Comment

  1. Willie says:

    And the right to vote FAIRLY!

Leave a Comment