Commentary: The Republicans’ Sad Odyssey With Black Voting Rights

The voter identification laws have been an attempt by Republicans to disenfranchise Black voters.

Posted: 10/03/2012 05:47 PM EDT

For more than a year, Republicans have been talking about the scourge of voter fraud gripping the nation. So rampant is the problem, they insisted, that it became crucial to revamp the voting laws, making sure that new identification documents be shown at polling places this coming November.

Civil rights and advocacy groups complained bitterly, saying that the changes enacted by Republican-controlled legislatures would result in disenfranchising African-American and Latino voters as well as the elderly and students. In Pennsylvania alone, nearly 1 million voters lacked the required documents and would have faced being turned away at the polls.

As it turns out, the Republicans are right about the presence of voter fraud. But the irony here is that the fraud has been at the hands of the Republican Party itself, which hired a consulting firm to do voter registration and which submitted fraudulent documents in a number of counties in Florida.

The Republican National Committee fired the company, offering a series of apologies and assurances that the consulting company’s behavior was reprehensible.

Still, the hypocrisy of the Republicans in this matter is almost as striking as their obscene effort to diminish the ability of African-American and Latino voters to go to the polls next month.  They don’t even pretend that the rash of voter identification laws is geared at anything other than their zeal to engineer the defeat of the nation’s first African-American president.

In fact, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai made that point painfully clear. Speaking to a gathering of Pennsylvania's Republican State Committee, Turzai listed the accomplishments of the Republican-controlled legislature in Pennsylvania, saying the voter laws would help defeat President Obama.

"Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it's done," Turzai said. "First pro-life legislation — abortion facility regulations — in 22 years, done. Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done."

In the end, it wasn’t done at all.

In a ruling that ends this highly controversial political issue in the 2012 election, a Pennsylvania judge this week ordered elections officials not to enact the state’s harsh and restrictive voter identification requirement. However, the new voter identification laws can still be enacted next year, the judge ruled.

While it is highly satisfying that the Pennsylvania law will not go into effect for this year’s presidential election, it is nonetheless disheartening that the measure was not tossed out as a deterrent to the voting rights of American citizens.

Let’s face it. These voter identification laws — which have been systematically weakened or tossed aside by the courts — are highly partisan moves to help Mitt Romney win the White House. If the Republicans were so outraged by voter fraud, they would have enacted these laws in time for their party’s primaries earlier this year.

Throughout American history, every move that expanded the voter participation of African-American citizens has been met with unforgiving backlash.

When Reconstruction led to a number of African-American officials being elected to Congress in the aftermath of the Civil War, the nation responded by withdrawing the federal troops who protected the voting rights of African-Americans in the south in 1877.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed discriminatory voting practices that had been responsible for the widespread disenfranchisement of Black citizens. It paved the way for a generation of Black mayors, members of Congress and even governors. But it was met with sharp resentment and a wholesale abandonment of the Democratic Party by white southerners.

Similarly, the election of Barack Obama as president increased the turnout of African-American voters to near record levels of participation. The backlash has come in the voter identification laws.

It’s time for elected officials — Republicans foremost among them — to realize that the right to vote is a sacred one in the United States. They need to realize that compromising the voting rights of any American creates a horrific blemish on all Americans.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.


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