By BEN TRAN
The Dallas Examiner
Civil rights attorney Louis A. Bedford IV held Voting Rights: Know Your Rights and Defend Them! with State Sen. Royce West and District Attorney John Creuzot, April 15. The online presentation broke down the history of voter suppression, how it is being conducted in 2021 and how to empower voters’ voices.
“I actually had the pleasure and the opportunity to work with State Sen. West during the 2017 legislative session and unfortunately a lot of the issues that we saw then, are what we’re seeing now,” Bedford said.
“From the time this country was founded, it was clear that there was a racial and gender hierarchy that would be the defining characteristic of this country. People look at our founding fathers with admiration, yet the same people professing ‘All men are created equal’ were the same ones who owned and brutalized slaves. The same ones who fought for freedom against the English oppression were willing to subjugate others – the same ones who fought for rights, actively tried to prevent others from being able to obtain theirs. In 1776, only White, land-owning men over the age of 21 could vote.
“Unfortunately, today, our voting system still elevates the same group of people. Voter suppression is a tool of white supremacy. It was during 1776 and unfortunately it is today.”
The lack of diversity is reflected in the current government leadership. Although women are 51% of the total United States population, women only make up 25% of the U.S. senators and 23% of the House. Out of our 100 U.S. senators, only six are Latinx and two are Black.
In Texas, with the largest raw population of Black people in the United States, only 2 of the 31 state senators are Black.
Bedford asserted that despite the 14th, 15th and 19th Amendments in effect, voter suppression has been an instrument to keep disenfranchised groups from having a voice. For instance, during the times of Jim Crow laws, there were acts of violence, literacy tests, property tests, the grandfather clause, voter roll purges, felony disenfranchisement and poll taxes.
“Even though a lot of these may seem as though they are remnants of the past, unfortunately – unfortunately, a lot of them are very much present today,” Bedford explained.
“That is the true history of this country and in order for us to move forward, we have to confront the demons of our past if we want to make sure that we are able to have a more equitable and just society.”
Some examples of recent voter suppression tactics include armed intimidation, lack of information, minimum voting locations and long voting lines, with some voters having to wait eight hours. Current voter suppression also takes the form of voter ID laws, voter roll purges, felony disenfranchisement and limiting access to vote by mail. As of the time of writing this, to be able to have access to the vote-by-mail, you must be 65 or older, sick, disabled, be out of the county on Election Day, or be confined to a jail.
Currently, the state is trying to pass SB7 and HB6, which, according to Bedford, will actively do the following:
- Make it a felony for a public official to distribute an absentee ballot application – including an absentee ballot – to anyone who has not requested it.
- Make it a felony for a public official to distribute an absentee ballot to anyone other than the person who submitted the request.
- Make it a felony for a public official to encourage anyone to submit an absentee ballot application who did not request one.
- Give the attorney general broad authority to prosecute volunteers who engage in get-out-the-vote campaigns in the lead-up to elections.
- Give partisan “poll watchers” special rights to intimidate voters, outlawing their removal from polling places for any reason other than “election fraud.”
- Require anyone applying for an absentee ballot based on disability to submit a sworn statement that they are physically incapable of entering a polling place and require that those individuals also provide medical documentation attesting to their condition before they can qualify for an absentee ballot.
- Require countrywide polling places in a given county have “approximately the same number of voting machines,” as every other countywide polling place in the county, regardless of variations in population.
“These bills are to do nothing more than to scare individuals [and] organizations who are trying to give a voice to the voiceless. … We cannot let the fear of criminality stop us from doing the right thing. It wasn’t that long ago where it was illegal for Black people to drink from White water fountains or even try to participate in the jury process. Gay marriages, interracial marriages … or even integration itself – just because something is illegal, does not make it inherently wrong and simply because something is legal does not make it inherently right,” Bedford explained.
Bedford warned that the future of voter suppression will resemble tactics used during the time of Jim Crow laws and the tactics used in the present.
“We must do something today to make sure yesterday’s past does not become tomorrow’s future,” Bedford emphasized.
Bedford cautioned the voter to not be confused with headlines about voter fraud. He asserted that those are just diversions; if it is already difficult enough for the average person to vote once, imagine the difficulty of voting again under a different identity.
“What is freedom if we aren’t able to participate in the democratic process? What is freedom if we aren’t able to have a voice?” Bedford asked.
In response, he offered answers to how the community could protect voting rights.
How do I protect my right to vote?
- Check county and state resources to make sure you are registered to vote;
- Come up with a plan for when and where you will be voting;
- Know what and who is on the ballot;
- Pack snacks and water in case of a long line;
- Bring state approved IDs or ask for a Reasonable Impediment Declaration if you do not have access to them;
- Make sure you know your rights to prevent anyone from taking them from you!
- If you have any issues call (866) Our-VOTE or reach out to party resources!
Other ways to get involved include protesting, boycotting, attending jury duty, using community resources, talking to legislators, unionize, vote and attend local and state hearings.
“We must act. … We cannot and should not compromise with people who are willing to take away our humanity from us.’ Frederick Douglass once said, ‘Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.’ And it’s time that we demand that our voices are heard; we demand that we have a right to vote; we demand that no one takes our rights away and ultimately, we demand that we matter,” Bedford concluded.