The right’s war against voting rights, minorities

LEE A. DANIELS | 1/18/2016, 1:12 a.m.
Those who’ve wondered how, after the Civil War abolished slavery, America became – while a democracy in rhetorical terms – ...
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He collaborated with Rachel Robinson on her 1998 book, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait. NNPA

(George Curry Media) – Those who’ve wondered how, after the Civil War abolished slavery, America became – while a democracy in rhetorical terms – in reality an apartheid state should be paying close attention to the machinations of the Republican Party and the conservative movement.

They’ve been providing example after example of how democratic forms can be used to deprive some citizens of their rights.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the right-wing effort to limit some Americans’ right to vote in order to restore White conservative rule.

From the Supreme Court’s 2013 gutting of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder to a flood of laws and rules enacted by Republican-controlled state legislatures during President Obama’s tenure, conservatives have been trying to undermine two of the society’s most powerful progressive forces of the last half-century.

The first is the empowerment of the Black vote produced by the legislative victories of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The result: The Black vote became the bedrock of the Democratic Party, and the foundation of Obama’s election and re-election victories.

The second is the demographic revolution of these past decades that has produced the increasingly influential vote of other American groups of color – namely, Latino, Asian and Muslim Americans. Substantial majorities of these groups vote Democratic, too – at the very time the GOP has deliberately become even more a “White people’s party.”

A set of striking statistics tells the tale: Data gathered by the Cook Political Report show that 87 percent of House Republicans are White males, compared to 43 percent of House Democrats, and that the median composition of congressional districts represented by Republicans is 76 percent White, while the median Democratic district is 49 percent White. Both “diversity gaps” are the widest they’ve ever been.

In other words, the GOP has used the legislative gerrymandering process to literally gather conservative voters into geographical “fortresses” primarily in exurban and rural areas where there are only small numbers of Americans of color and progressive-leaning voters to be found. It’s rolled the dice that laws and rules enacted by Republican-dominated state legislatures will block enough voters of color from the ballot box in this year’s presidential contest for them to re-gain the White House with, essentially, just White conservative voters. Further, its long-game strategy is to continue to use those measures to keep control of a majority of state legislatures and of congressional House districts.

A central plank of that plan is the latest conservative White-rule gambit before the U.S. Supreme Court: Evenwel v. Abbott. At first glance, the case, coming from Texas and seeking a change in how legislative districts for the state Senate there are drawn, seems simply to ask a neutral question: Should state legislative districts be based on the total number of people living there (including children, legal immigrants who’ve yet to become naturalized citizens, ex-offenders who are barred from voting, and so on) or just the number of eligible voters?

The U.S. Constitution doesn’t discuss the issue at all. But two U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s declared, without actually deciding the matter, that the 14th Amendment requires states to follow a “one person, one vote” rule. Those rulings, justly celebrated as hallmarks of American democracy, produced huge gains in political power for the high-population areas of cities and suburbs with their diverse and more liberal populations, compared to exurban and rural areas whose populations have always been overwhelmingly White and conservative.