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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has voiced opposition to making Election Day a federal holiday. Allowing American voters a more accessible and stress-free trip to their voting precincts should be a no-brainer. H.R.1-For the People Act of 2019 would do just that.
McConnell depicted the Democratic-controlled House proposal as "a political power grab," and mocked the legislation as the "Democrat Politician Protection Act."
H.R.1 would "expand Americans' access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and for other purposes."
The bill would improve access for voters with disabilities and voter turnout. It'd reform automatic voter registration and felon re-enfranchisement. In other words, H.R.1 would modernize a century-old bankrupt voting system to mirror America today, allowing for a participatory democracy.
Because of the GOP's continued aversion to diversity, including POC, LGBTQs, immigrants, and Muslims, to name a few, the party's tribe has become an aging white nostalgic throwback of its good ole' Jim Crow days.
Since the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Voting Act, which greatly expanded African-American access to the ballot, the GOP has pursued ongoing tactics to suppress voting by people of color. Such Jim Crow tactics like literacy tests, poll taxes and grandfather clauses have given way to new tactics -- random voter roll purging, changing polling locations, changing polling hours or eliminating early voting days, reducing the number of polling places, packing majority-minority districts, dividing minority districts, and the notorious voter ID laws that disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters. They are all part and parcel of the Republican playbook.
The Republican game plan to disenfranchise Democratic voters by any means necessary has both unapologetically and unabashedly shown the American public the art of what a "power grab" looks like. And, McConnell's party has continued their no-holds-barred tactics in this century as in the last.
In 2000, the outcome of the presidential race between Democratic Vice President Al Gore and Republican Texas Governor George W. Bush was decided in a recount of Florida ballots. In predominately black voting precincts, which are overwhelmingly Democratic, it was reported that piles of ballots were left uncounted. The U.S. Civil Rights Commission reported that of ballots invalidated by Florida officials, 53 percent were cast by black voters. The Florida debacle was settled in Bush's favor, winning him the presidency. His brother Jeb was governor at the time.
In 2013, by a 5-to-4 Republican majority, the U. S. Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder eviscerated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 4 identified problematic voting precincts with shameful histories of racial discrimination. Not surprisingly, these precincts are predominately GOP strongholds. The Court ruled that Section 4 of the VRA was outdated. Section 4 historically protected African-Americans and other disenfranchised people of color. The ruling argued we lived in a fictional post-racial world where minorities, especially in the South, no longer confront discriminatory barriers to voting. At the time, the 1965 VRA applied to nine states -- Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.
However, after the Shelby County v. Holder decision, North Carolina's GOP targeted black voters "with almost surgical precision" since the black vote increased in the state in 2000, and blacks had a much higher voter turnout with Obama on the ballot in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.
In 2018, the epic gubernatorial battle in Georgia between Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams and Republican candidate Brian Kemp was a bold, brash, and brazen example of how Republican "power grab" works. Kemp while running for governor was Georgia's secretary of state. And, as Georgia's SOS, Kemp oversaw elections, and was responsible for the "exact match" policy. The "exact match" policy states that a voter application must "exactly match" their social security or driver's license information. According to the Associated Press, 53,000 applications were put on hold of which 70 percent were black voters.
The GOP tactics to dissuade people of color to the polls during the midterm elections also impacted and posed challenges for many transgender voters who transitioned; many who may not have had a government-issued photo ID reflecting their gender. According to the Williams Institute data, of the 137,000 transgender people who have transitioned and were eligible to vote, approximately 57 percent (78,000) may not have had the appropriate ID.
H.R.1-For the People Act of 2019 would allow those of us who'd too easily be denied the right to vote.
I grew up knowing one of the most influential voices in American politics, Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm. Chisholm represented my Brooklyn congressional district for seven terms, from 1969 to 1983. She was known throughout the neighborhood and the halls of power in New York City as a force to be reckoned with who was "unbought" and "unbossed," also the title of her 1970 memoir.
I learned from her that democracy can only begin to work when those who are relegated to the fringes of society can begin to sample what those in society take for granted as their inalienable right. And, it starts at the ballot box.
REV. IRENE MONROE does a weekly Monday segment, "All Revved Up!" on Boston Public Radio and is a weekly Friday TV commentator on New England Channel NEWS. She's a theologian and religion columnist.