So Georgia voters decided against Stacey Abrams as their governor. Maybe.
With all the shenanigans perpetrated by Republicans in that state, we’ll never know for sure. Had they not passed a restrictive “exact match” law that put 53,000 voters (most of them reportedly African American) in electoral limbo over misplaced commas and transposed letters in their names, had they not purged 107,000 infrequent voters from the rolls in 2017, would she have lost?
No one can say, though Abrams certainly made her opinion clear last week in the non-concession speech that ended her bid to become the first black woman to govern a U.S. state. “Democracy failed Georgia,” she said.
Truth be told, it is failing a lot of places. The nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law reports that 24 states have enacted laws since 2010 to make voting more difficult. These include photo ID laws, laws cutting back on early voting, laws restricting ex-felons from casting ballots, laws requiring street addresses from voters in places where there are no street addresses.
The Republican Party line is that this is needed to fight voting fraud. Which is a lie. Voting fraud exists primarily in the party’s imagination.
No, the truth is that, as this country becomes blacker, browner, gayer, younger, more Hispanic and more Muslim, it is increasingly the case that the GOP cannot win if all voters vote. It cannot win, in other words, without cheating.
Thus it passes laws to reduce voting among people disinclined to vote Republican. Indeed, some party members have explicitly said as much. As in a recent video of Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith “joking” – or so her campaign calls it – about what a “great idea” it is to enact laws that “make it just a little more difficult” for “liberal folks” to vote.
Mississippi, of course, is where Andrew Goodman, Medgar Evers, Michael Schwerner, George Lee, Vernon Dahmer, James Chaney and Herbert Lee were murdered because some people thought it “a great idea” to make it “just a little more difficult” for them to vote. Perhaps the senator will forgive those of us who remember that and thus, find it hard to appreciate her sparkling wit.
The Voting Rights Act once provided at least some protection against voter suppression. But in 2013, the Supreme Court cut out its heart, a section that prevented places with a history of discrimination from changing their voting laws without federal approval.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice John Roberts justified the decision by noting how much progress has been made toward ensuring the right to vote since the Act was passed in 1965. In effect, he said that because the VRA worked, it was no longer needed. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg noted in her dissent, this was “like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.”
In the absence of the Act, Republicans are running riot over African American and other people’s voting rights. This bacchanal of suppression is terribly short-sighted, striking as it does at democracy’s vitals. Put simply: When the integrity and fairness of the vote can’t be trusted, neither can the legitimacy of any government that vote installs.
The GOP is playing with fire. The right to vote must be sacrosanct, the path to the ballot box free from artificial impediments designed to advantage one party over another. Congress must restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act. Because Ginsburg was right about umbrellas.
And right now, we are getting soaked.
Email Leonard Pitts Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org.