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Voters of Color Still Face Roadblocks

Thu, 12/01/2022 - 07:55


Georgia voters on Monday set an early voting record, easily surpassing the previous highest one-day figure, set before the Nov. 8 election. Georgians appeared determined to have their say on the runoff between Senator Raphael Warnock and his Republican challenger, Herschel Walker, despite intentional roadblocks to their participation. In many election locations, waits of an hour or more were reported on Monday and Tuesday, especially in nonwhite areas. This follows a long pattern of discrimination in which the number of voting locations and equipment were limited by election officials at the state and county level, generally in places with high Black voter registration. 

During the 2020 election, according to news reports, wait times were up to six hours in some locations. A Georgia law, new that year, reduced the number of ballot boxes in communities of color, limited voting hours, added additional voter ID requirements, and also made it illegal to provide those waiting in line with food or water, among other measures, according to the strenuously nonpartisan League of Women Voters. Georgia is not alone in seeking to suppress voter turnout. Similar measures have been attempted across the country.

At the federal level, the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act seeks to restore key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were struck down by United States Supreme Court conservative justices. Led by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court concluded that the voter protections that had been in place for nearly 50 years were no longer necessary. Demonstrably false, Chief Justice Roberts wrote in the majority decision that the 1965 law was unconstitutional because the standards for its enforcement were, "based on decades-old data and eradicated practices." This was a partisan lie then and it remains a lie today. Without federal involvement, race-based voter exclusions crafted by Republican state leaders have grown dramatically in number. Measures have included unwarranted arrests, strict voter ID laws, reducing polling hours and early voting drop-box locations, making false claims regarding voter registration, and purging voter rolls using intentionally discriminatory criteria aimed at Black people. 

Voter fraud, which is cited as the reason why these repressive laws are put in place, has been shown time and again by impartial experts to be so rare as to have no impact whatsoever on election results.

The John Lewis Act would reinstate federal and/or judicial oversight of elections in states with a history of race-based discrimination. Like the gutted 1965 act, it would work by requiring "preclearance" before state and local changes to voting procedures can take effect. The preclearance requirement would be imposed, for example, based on a state or county's record of voting rights violations during the preceding 25 years; if a state itself were responsible for the violations, the threshold would be just three during the 25-year look-back period. The House of Representatives passed the John Lewis Act almost a year and a half ago. It narrowly failed twice in the Senate; President Joe Biden has repeatedly called for its passage, including in a statement issued by the White House this week. Whether the John Lewis Act can gain enough votes to override a likely filibuster by Republicans remains unclear -- what is obvious is that racist suppression practices will remain until it or something like it again becomes the law of the land.

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