Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Grand old vote suppression

  So, the narrative goes like this:

  "Republicans are the party of racial equality. They are the party of Lincoln. Democrats tried to obstruct the civil rights initiatives of the 1960s. And, you know Martin Luther King was a Republican."

  The interesting thing: This history is true, if one discounts history.

   Party of Lincoln. Check. Dems obstructionists of social justice in '60s. Check. King a Republican? That's where actual history must come in.

   Martin Luther King Jr. was no Republican, says Politifact.com, despite persistent urban myth. One loophole for the narrative: MLK's father, Martin Luther King Sr., was a Republican. Then again, most blacks whose sensibilities were formed in the South in the 1930s, '40s and '50s were Republicans. In the South in that era, the GOP truly was the Party of Lincoln. Democrats were the party of Jim Crow.

     However, as certain as Richard Nixon's "Southern strategy" succeeded in converting Dixie's Dems into Republicans by exploiting fear and loathing of desegregation, that changed. As Martin Luther King III states today, it is "outrageous to suggest (MLK Jr.) would support the Republican Party of today, which has spent so much time and effort trying to suppress African American votes."

   Vote suppression. Would that such a thing were history — buried and rotted to dust with literacy tests and poll taxes.

    But, no. Among the GOP's most vigorous and predictable efforts are those spent on making sure as few people of color vote as is legally possible.

    One would think that if one has a political product of which one is proud, one would want the highest possible turnout election. Come one, come all. Vote for us. We have the best ideas.

    One would think that.

    From sea to shining sea, however, in each legislative session in this new century, the GOP tries every imaginable wrinkle toward just the opposite.

     In Colorado, where voting by mail has become more rule than exception, Republicans now seek to block a bill to let counties mail ballots to voters who didn't vote in the previous general election.

    What's the issue? The GOP says this is postage stamps — you know, crippling costs sending out the ballots.

     The other consideration? The preponderance of those in question are Democrats and independents, and one can assume that most are low-income, workaday individuals. You know what that means. Martin Luther King III knows what that means.

     In states where Republicans have the power, they make it harder to vote by ramping up voter I.D. requirements. "Voter fraud" is their battle cry.

    A few years ago, when Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott set out to demonstrate an "epidemic" of voter fraud across a state the size of a country, he came up with all of 26 prosecutions. Some epidemic, Dr. Oz.

     Oh, and all 26 offenders were Democrats.

     Tain't about voter fraud, compadres. It's all about party politics and power. Republican vote-suppression efforts proved so crucial in states like Ohio and Florida in the elections of 2000 and 2004 — always targeting people of color, people of poverty — they have become the pitching wedge in the GOP golf bag.

     Of course, whereas in the old days segregationists could point to uneducated blacks as a threat to social order, these days the party can point to brown skins — illegal aliens.

   It begs credulity — that hyper-focused, sweat-stained workers, a shadow population, would invest the time and energy to influence American elections, and to risk being identified and deported. We are told, however, that this is reason Numero Uno to ramp up "ballot security" measures at the polls. "Security" sounds so imperative, rather than pure partisan guile.

       So, sure, the motivation for all this might be postage stamps. And, sure, it might be voter fraud. And it also might be that philosophical heirs of Jim Crow are doing what their granddaddies did. It all depends on one's narrative.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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