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Profile: John Lewis

John Lewis was a participant or observer in the following events:

Congressional Republicans jump-start the process to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989) in what media and political observers believe is an effort to outflank Democrats, who are traditionally the most staunch supporters of the bill. Key portions of the bill are set to expire in 2007, including Section 5, which requires that states, districts, and other locales with a history of racial discrimination in their electoral processes get Justice Department approval before making any changes to voting procedures. Section 5 is intended to ensure that minorities are not disenfranchised due to their race. Observers believe Republicans want to avoid a showdown over the bill in light of the upcoming midterm elections in 2006. In 1982, the Reagan administration fought Congressional Democrats over an expansion of the law, and Republicans want to make sure that scenario does not play itself out again as the midterm elections approach. Republicans also want to reach out to African-American voters, traditionally a strong Democratic voting bloc. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), a veteran of the civil rights struggle, says, “I’m not surprised at all” that Republicans want to renew the VRA and reach out to black voters. “The Republicans are reaching out to the African-American voters.… They want to make a dent with the black electorate, take some of those voters away from the Democratic side.” Lewis intends to insert language into the renewal bill that would invalidate a recent Georgia law requiring photo identification for prospective voters, a requirement he and many others say would discriminate against the poor and the elderly. Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) broke with recent Republican tradition by calling on Congress to renew Section 5 and other portions of the VRA at the NAACP’s annual convention in July. “I am here to tell you publicly what I have told others privately, including the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Mel Watt,” Sensenbrenner told the assemblage. “During this Congress we are going to extend the Voting Rights Act. We cannot let discriminatory practices of the past resurface to threaten future gains. The Voting Rights Act must continue to exist—and exist in its current form.” Sensenbrenner said at the convention that House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) considers renewal of the VRA “high on his list of issues the House will address this Congress.” A representative for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) says Frist is “fired up” over renewal of Section 5. Only a few months ago, Bush appeals court nominee William Pryor, a Republican from Alabama, called Section 5 “an affront to federalism and an expensive burden that has far outlived its usefulness,” a controversial characterization that Senator Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and other Republicans defended. In May, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales suggested that the Bush administration is not fully behind reauthorization of Section 5. Political observers say that Democrats intend to use any further Republican opposition to the VRA to claim that Republicans are insensitive to black voters, even as senior Republican strategists like Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman say they want the party to appeal to that demographic. Mehlman told the NAACP convention in July that Republican leaders had tried over the past 40 years “to benefit politically from racial polarization.” He then said, “We were wrong” to do so. [MSNBC, 10/4/2005]

Entity Tags: James Sensenbrenner, William Pryor, Bill Frist, Alberto R. Gonzales, Dennis Hastert, US Department of Justice, Voting Rights Act of 1965, Saxby Chambliss, John Lewis, Ken Mehlman, US Congress, Mel Watt, Bush administration (43), Reagan administration

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US House of Representatives overcomes challenges by conservative Republicans and votes overwhelmingly in favor of renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965 and June 29, 1989). Congressional Republicans originally voiced strong support for renewing the landmark voting rights legislation (see October 4, 2005) but some 80 House Republicans have worked for weeks to block renewal of the bill over objections to providing bilingual ballots in some areas, and over continued oversight by the Justice Department in areas with a history of racial disenfranchisement and discrimination at the voting booth (see June 22, 2006). The renewal bill, officially entitled the “Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act” after a number of prominent civil rights figures, passes the House on a 390-33 vote. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), an African-American veteran who was beaten by white police officers during the civil rights struggle, gives an impassioned speech on the House floor before the vote is cast. Lewis reminds the House that “I gave blood” to ensure that blacks and other minorities had the right to vote without discrimination. “Some of my colleagues gave their very lives. Yes, we’ve made some progress; we have come a distance. The sad truth is, discrimination still exists. That’s why we still need the Voting Rights Act, and we must not go back to the dark past.” Lewis and other supporters took part in over a dozen House hearings where, according to Lewis, proof of voter discrimination was highlighted. Some conservative lawmakers have argued that such discrimination is a thing of the past, and therefore the VRA is obsolete and need not be renewed. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) is one of those making that argument, telling the House: “A lot has changed in 40-plus years. We should have a law that fits the world in 2006.” Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) agrees: “Congress is declaring from on high that states with voting problems 40 years ago can simply never be forgiven. That Georgians must eternally wear the scarlet letter because of the actions of their grandparents and great-grandparents.… We have repented and we have reformed.” Westmoreland says many people are “prejudiced” against Southern states. David Scott (D-GA) accuses House Republicans such as Gingrey and Westmoreland of working “to kill the Voting Rights Act” both through opposition and through the attempted addition of a number of unpalatable amendments that would strongly water down the law, such as an amendment by Steve King (R-IA) that would have removed the provision for bilingual ballots and forced naturalized citizens to prove their fluency in English before being allowed to vote. The bill moves to the Senate, where Democrats are urging quick passage and accusing House Republicans of unjustly delaying the bill’s passage. “For two months, we have wasted precious time as the Republican leadership played to its conservative base,” says Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). “There are only 21 legislative days left in this Congress, and the time to act is now.” [New York Times, 7/13/2006; Associated Press, 7/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Steve King, David Scott, Harry Reid, John Lewis, Lynn Westmoreland, Phil Gingrey, US House of Representatives, Voting Rights Act of 1965

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Democratic lawmaker Emanuel Cleaver, walking through the crowd of tea party protesters around the same time he is spat upon.Democratic lawmaker Emanuel Cleaver, walking through the crowd of tea party protesters around the same time he is spat upon. [Source: EurWeb (.com)]Tea party and other anti-health care protesters in Washington denigrate African-American lawmakers with racial slurs, one African-American congressman is spat upon, and a gay congressman is called an anti-gay slur by another protester.
'Kill the Bill, N_gger!' - John Lewis (D-GA) and Andre Carson (D-IN), both members of the Congressional Black Caucus, after leaving a Democratic caucus meeting with President Obama, encounter a large and angry crowd of tea party and other protesters. According to Carson and a number of staffers accompanying the lawmakers, protesters first scream and chant, “Kill the bill!” referring to the pending health care legislation, then alter the chant to say, “Kill the bill, n_gger!” When Lewis confirms that he supports the bill, protesters shout, “Baby killer!” Police quickly escort Lewis, Carson, and their staffers into the Capitol building. Carson later tells a reporter that he heard the first slur from a single individual: “You see one or two tea party people kind of look at him, and then you hear it again as we’re walking. Then we walk across [Independence Avenue], and that’s when it starts getting deeper.… You heard it in spurts, in the midst of ‘Kill the bill. Kill the bill.’ One guy, I remember he just rattled it off several times. Then John looks at me and says, ‘You know, this reminds me of a different time.’” Lewis confirms Carson’s account of the racial slurs, and adds, “People have been just downright mean.” Heath Shuler (D-NC), a white congressman, also confirms that he heard the racial slurs.
Lawmaker Spat Upon - Another African-American congressman, Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), is spat upon by an unidentified protester; police arrest the man, but Cleaver declines to press charges and the man is later released.
Lawmaker Called 'F_ggot' - Protesters in the same rally accost Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA), who is openly gay, inside the Longworth House office building; one, an elderly white man, shouts, “Barney, you f_ggot!” causing many in the group to laugh and a woman to shout, “We don’t need that.” CNN reporter Dana Bash later says that her producer personally witnessed the homophobic slur towards Frank. When Capitol police threaten to expel the protesters from the Longworth building, according to one reporter, the police are “outnumbered and quickly overwhelmed.” After tea party protesters equipped with high-end video cameras arrive to film the encounter, the police relent and allow them to continue protesting inside the building.
Rhetoric Similar to '60s Civil Rights Protests - Frank later says of the protesters: “I’m disappointed at a unwillingness to be just civil. [T]he objection to the health care bill has become a proxy for other sentiments.… Obviously there are perfectly reasonable people that are against this, but the people out there today on the whole—many of them were hateful and abusive.” Frank puts some of the blame for the incident on tea party organization leaders and Republicans who align themselves with the organizations, and notes that today’s incidents are not the first of their kind (see June 30, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28-29, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 11, 2009). “I do think the leaders of the movement, and this was true of some of the Republicans last year, that they think they are benefiting from this rancor,” he says. “I mean there are a couple who—you know, Michele Bachmann’s rhetoric is inflamatory as well as wholly baseless. And I think there are people there, a few that encourage it.… If this was my cause, and I saw this angry group yelling and shouting and being so abusive to people, I would ask them to please stop it. I think they do more harm than good.” Frank tells another reporter: “The Republican leadership is making a mistake not doing more to disassociate from this.… It’s a mob mentality that doesn’t work politically.” House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), an African-American, says: “It was absolutely shocking to me, last Monday, I stayed home to meet on the campus Pomford University where 50 years ago, as of last Monday, March 15th, I led the first demonstrations in South Carolina, the sit-ins… quite frankly I heard some things today that I haven’t heard since that day. I heard people saying things today I’ve not heard since March 15th, 1960, when I was marching to try and get off the back of the bus. This is incredible, shocking to me.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/20/2010; MSNBC, 3/20/2010; Mediaite, 3/20/2010; ABC News, 4/13/2010] Anne Caprara, the chief of staff for Betsy Markey (D-CO), says of the protesters: “I’ve been in politics for 10 years and it was like nothing I’d ever seen. To be amongst that crowd outside and to see some of the people who walked into our office, these people were very unhinged.” [KDVR-TV, 3/25/2010] The New York Times later publishes a correction to a follow-up article that notes it is impossible to prove that actual tea party members were the ones hurling the racial and homophobic epithets, nor is it clear that it was a tea party member who spat upon Cleaver. [New York Times, 7/17/2010]
Tea Party Supporters Claim False Accusations - Conservative bloggers quickly accuse Lewis, Carson, Cleaver, and the “liberal media” of lying about the incidents [Media Research Center, 3/20/2010; John Hinderaker, 7/25/2010] , and are joined by Bachmann (R-MN), who will falsely inform an audience, “No witness saw it, it’s not on camera, it’s not on audio.” [ABC News, 4/13/2010]
Videos Surface - A blogger at the liberal Daily Kos posts a video of the protests. [Daily Kos, 3/20/2010] Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart later posts a video claiming that it proves no such incidents took place; further examination proves that the video was shot over an hour past the time of the incidents. Breitbart will offer a $100,000 contribution to the United Negro College Fund if anyone can prove to his satisfaction that the incidents occurred. After stating flatly that his video proves the incidents “didn’t happen,” Breitbart later partially retracts his denial, saying, “I’m not saying the video was conclusive proof.” Other conservatives will accuse Lewis, Carson, and Cleaver of deliberately walking through the crowd of protesters in order to provoke a reaction. [ABC News, 4/13/2010] Days later, another video surfaces, showing Cleaver walking through a crowd of angry, shouting protesters, then suddenly jerking his head back and wiping his face. [EurWeb, 3/29/2010]

Entity Tags: James Clyburn, Betsy Markey, Congressional Black Caucus, Dana Bash, Barack Obama, Barney Frank, Andrew Breitbart, Anne Caprara, Michele Bachmann, John Lewis, Emanuel Cleaver, Andre Carson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Liberal columnist Joan Walsh denounces the racial and homophobic slurs hurled at Democratic lawmakers by tea party protesters during a rally outside the US Capitol (see March 20, 2010). She writes that while the tea party movement may have had its start in economic protests (see After November 7, 2008, February 1, 2009, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009, and February 19, 2009 and After), it is now “disturbingly racist and reactionary, from its roots to its highest branches.” Based on just what mainstream media reports say (ignoring reports on Twitter and blogs), Walsh writes that Representative John Lewis (D-GA) was called “n_gger” at least 15 separate times, incidents confirmed by Representative Andre Carson (D-IN) and Lewis spokesperson Brenda Jones. Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) was spat upon; the perpetrator was arrested, but Cleaver declined to press charges. CNN’s Dana Bash personally heard protesters call Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) a “f_ggot.” Walsh describes Bash as seemingly “rattled by the tea party fury.” Walsh notes that Tim Phillips of Americans for Prosperity, one of the lobbying groups funding the various tea party organizations (see Late 2004, February 16-17, 2009, February 19, 2009 and After, and April 2009 and After), recently appeared on an MSNBC talk show to deny that the violence and verbal assaults common at tea party rallies are emblematic of the movement as a whole (Phillips was on to discuss a tea party protester taunting a man with Parkinson’s disease at a recent Ohio rally—see March 16, 2010). Walsh writes, “But such demurrals don’t cut it any more.” She notes that tea party leader Judson Phillips, speaking at the recent National Tea Party Convention (see February 4-6, 2010), denounced the racism exhibited at tea party rallies, but then endorsed racist speaker Tom Tancredo (see May 26, 2009 and May 28, 2009), who received loud cheers when he advocated that US voters be given literacy tests, a Jim Crow-era tactic to keep blacks from voting. Walsh says she wants to believe the tea party movement is populated by something other than old-school racists who coalesced to oppose the first African-American president. She notes that Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) has criticized the slurs hurled at Lewis, Carson, Cleaver, and Frank, and went on to distance the Republican Party from the tea party frenzy, saying: “I think we’ve reached a tipping point here. I think the American people are rising up with one voice and saying, ‘Enough is enough.’” Walsh writes that Pence seems to blame Obama, Lewis, Carson, and their Democratic colleagues for the inflammatory rhetoric being hurled at them, “and ignore the role of GOP racism.” She goes on to note that Representative Geoff Davis (R-KY) hung a “Don’t Tread On Me” sign over the Capitol Balcony shortly after Pence’s remarks, and reminds readers that Davis called Obama “that boy” in a speech (see April 12, 2008). [Salon, 3/20/2010] Days after the incidents outside the Capitol, tea party leaders denounce the racism and homophobia at the event, but deny tea party members were involved, and claim Democrats and liberals are using the “isolated” incidents to whip up anti-tea party sentiment (see March 25, 2010). Tea party leaders will also claim that reports of racist epithets and sloganeering among their members are invented by Democrats and liberals (see March 26, 2010).

Entity Tags: Geoffrey C. (“Geoff”) Davis, Barney Frank, Andre Carson, Brenda Jones, Emanuel Cleaver, Joan Walsh, Tim Phillips, Dana Bash, John Lewis, Judson Phillips, Mike Pence

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Rolling Stone reporter Ari Berman writes that Republican lawmakers across the nation have launched “an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that helped elect Barack Obama in 2008. Just as Dixiecrats once used poll taxes and literacy tests to bar black Southerners from voting, a new crop of GOP governors and state legislators has passed a series of seemingly disconnected measures that could prevent millions of students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly from casting ballots.” The initiative is ostensibly to counter the “epidemic” of “voter fraud” that Republicans insist is not only plaguing the nation, but affecting the outcome of elections. (In 2007, the Brennan Center released a report that found the instance of voter fraud vanishingly small, and concluded that more people die by lightning strikes than commit voter fraud—see 2007). Judith Browne-Dianis of the Advancement Project tells Berman, “What has happened this year is the most significant setback to voting rights in this country in a century.” As far back as 1980, powerful Republican operative Paul Weyrich told evangelical leaders: “I don’t want everybody to vote. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” In 2010, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group founded by Weyrich and funded in part by the billionaire Koch brothers (see 1977-Present, 1979-1980, 1981-2010, 1984 and After, Late 2004, May 6, 2006, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, December 6, 2009, November 2009, July 3-4, 2010, August 28, 2010, August 30, 2010, September 24, 2010, January 5, 2011, October 4, 2011, and February 14, 2011), began working to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of legitimate voters, almost of all identified as being part of ethnic or gender groups that are more likely to vote Democratic. Thirty-eight states have submitted legislation designed to impede voting “at almost every step of the electoral process.”
Requiring Proof of Citizenship - Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to show proof of US citizenship before being allowed to vote.
Impeding Voter Registration - Florida and Texas have passed legislation making it more difficult for groups like the League of Women Voters, an organization widely considered to lean Democratic, to register new voters. Maine repealed same-day registration, which had been in effect since 1973 and had worked to significantly increase voter participation. The Florida legislature passed a law requiring groups to hand in voter registration forms within 48 hours of collection, and imposed what Berman calls “a barrage of onerous, bureaucratic requirements” and serious criminal penalties for those who fail to comply. As a result, many people who once volunteered to help register voters are afraid to do so again. The League of Women Voters says it will no longer operate in Florida, and called Florida’s efforts “good old-fashioned voter suppression.” The Florida statute took effect one day after its passage, under an emergency statute designed for “an immediate danger to the public health, safety or welfare.” Since 2009, Florida has arrested a total of three people for suspected voter fraud. Republican state senator Mike Fasano, one of the few in his party to oppose the restrictions on registrations, says, “No one could give me an example of all this fraud they speak about.”
Curbing Early Voting - Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia have cut short early-voting periods. Six states have moved to impose new restrictions on voter registration drives. In 2004, then-Florida governor Jeb Bush (R-FL) said he thought early voting was “great.… It’s another reform we added that has helped provide access to the polls and provide a convenience. And we’re going to have a high voter turnout here, and I think that’s wonderful.” However, his successor Rick Scott (R-FL) does not agree, and neither do most Republicans. After analysis showed what a benefit early voting was for Obama’s numbers, early voting became a key target. Florida has cut early voting days from 14 to 8 days. Ohio, where early voting numbers gave Obama a narrow victory in 2008, has cut its early voting days from 35 to 11, with only limited hours on weekends. Both states have banned voting on the Sunday before elections, when many black churches historically mobilize their constituents. The Early Voting Information Center at Reed College states, “There is no evidence that any form of convenience voting has led to higher levels of fraud.”
Denying Convicted Felons the Right to Vote - Florida and Iowa have passed laws denying convicted felons the right to vote, disenfranchising thousands of previously eligible voters even if they have already served their sentences and have returned to society. Former Florida Governor Charlie Crist (R-FL) restored the voting rights of 154,000 felons convicted of non-violent crimes. In March 2011, after 30 minutes of public debate, Governor Scott overturned that decision, instantly disenfranchising almost 98,000 citizens and prohibiting another 1.1 million convicts from being allowed to vote after they are released from prison. Former President Bill Clinton asked in July: “Why should we disenfranchise people forever once they’ve paid their price? Because most of them in Florida were African-Americans and Hispanics and would tend to vote for Democrats—that’s why.” Iowa Governor Terry Branstad (R-IA) recently took a similar action, overturning his predecessor’s decision to restore voting rights to some 100,000 ex-felons. Until recent years, Iowa saw up to five percent of its residents ineligible to vote, including 33 percent of its African-American residents. Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia require former felons to apply for the right to vote to be restored.
Voter Identification - Six states—Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin, all controlled by Republican governors and legislatures—have passed laws requiring an official government ID to cast a ballot. Berman notes that some 10 percent of US citizens lack such identification, and the number of young and black voters, groups that traditionally lean Democratic, are much higher. The turn towards voter ID requirements began in 2008, when the US Supreme Court upheld an Indiana photo-ID requirement even though state lawyers could not produce a single instance of the kind of voter fraud that photo ID laws are designed to prevent. After the ruling, ALEC orchestrated a nationwide move towards photo ID requirements. ALEC wrote draft legislation for Republican legislators based on Indiana’s ID requirement. Five of the states that passed those laws had their legislation submitted by legislators who belong to ALEC. Heather Smith, president of the voter-registration group Rock the Vote, says: “We’re seeing the same legislation being proposed state by state by state. And they’re not being shy in any of these places about clearly and blatantly targeting specific demographic groups, including students.” In Texas, the Republican-dominated legislature passed “emergency” legislation that was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry saying that a concealed-weapons permit is acceptable ID, but a college ID is not. Republicans in Wisconsin effectively disenfranchised every college student by requiring that acceptable IDs contain information that no colleges put on their IDs. Dane County board supervisor Analiese Eicher says, “It’s like creating a second class of citizens in terms of who gets to vote.” In Wisconsin, for example, about half of African- and Hispanic-American citizens do not have a driver’s license, and the state has an extremely small number of Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices—some of which are only open one day a month. Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) attempted to close 16 DMV offices, all in heavily Democratic-voting areas. Berman notes, “Walker planned to close a DMV in Fort Atkinson, a liberal stronghold, while opening a new office 30 minutes away in the conservative district of Watertown.” Democratic governors in five states—Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina—have all vetoed ID laws. Voters in Mississippi and Montana are considering ballot initiatives requiring voter IDs. Legislation is currently pending in Pennsylvania. Perhaps the most restrictive law was signed into effect by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R-SC). Voters must have a free state ID to vote—but they must pay for a passport or birth certificate. Brown-Dianis says, “It’s the stepsister of the poll tax.” Many elderly black residents who were born at home in the segregated South and were never issued birth certificates can no longer vote unless they go to family court to prove their identity.
Significant Impact on 2012 Voting - Berman writes that when these measures are taken in the aggregate, the turnout of Democrats to the 2012 votes will be significantly smaller, perhaps enough to throw races to Republican candidates. In July, Clinton told a group of student activists: “One of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today is the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time. Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate.” Clinton was referring to the 2010 elections, widely considered a Republican “wave” election in part because of far smaller turnouts among young and minority voters than in 2008, and because of a large number of “tea party” voters. Clinton added, “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today.”
Cracking Down on Voter Fraud? - Republicans insist that voter fraud is rampant in America. Since George W. Bush took office in 2001 after losing the popular vote (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000), his administration made “voter fraud” a top priority for Justice Department prosecutors. In 2006, the DOJ fired two US Attorneys who refused to prosecute patently fraudulent voter fraud allegations. Bush advisor Karl Rove called voter fraud “an enormous and growing problem.” He told the Republican National Lawyers Association that America is “beginning to look like we have elections like those run in countries where the guys in charge are colonels in mirrored sunglasses.” The Republicans successfully destroyed the community activism group ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) after false allegations were made that it was, as Berman writes, “actively recruiting armies of fake voters to misrepresent themselves at the polls and cast illegal ballots for the Democrats.” A massive DOJ probe in 2006 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for intentionally impersonating another person at the polls, an action that the DOJ claimed was at the heart of the voter fraud investigation. Eighty-six cases of voter fraud did win convictions, but most of those were immigrants and former felons who did not intentionally cast illegal votes. An enormous investigation in Wisconsin resulted in 0.0007 percent of the electorate being prosecuted for voter fraud. And the Brennan Center report found the instance of voter fraud in America extraordinarily small (see 2007).
Voter Fraud Allegations Dog Obama Victory - Republican lawmakers and activists made a raft of allegations after the November 2008 elections that placed the White House in the hands of Barack Obama (D-IL). The 29 states that register voter affiliation showed a roughly 2-1 increase in new Democratic voters over Republicans for 2008, and Obama won almost 70 percent of those votes. Election reform expert Tova Wang says flatly, “This latest flood of attacks on voting rights is a direct shot at the communities that came out in historic numbers for the first time in 2008 and put Obama over the top.” Berman cites Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as emblematic of the Republican pushback against the Obama victory. Kobach is a former Bush-era Justice Department advisor who helped push through his state’s requirement that every voter prove his or her citizenship, ignoring the fact that Kansas has prosecuted exactly one case of voter fraud since 2006. Kobach used fear of illegal immigrants to help push his requirement through, stating without evidence, “In Kansas, the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive.” He also stated that many people were casting ballots in the name of dead voters, and cited the example of Alfred K. Brewer as a dead voter who mysteriously voted in 2008. However, as the Wichita Eagle showed, Brewer is very much alive. “I don’t think this is heaven,” Brewer told the Eagle, “[n]ot when I’m raking leaves.” Representative John Lewis (D-AL), a civil rights crusader who was brutally beaten during the 1960s effort to win voting rights for African-Americans, says bluntly, “Voting rights are under attack in America.” On the House floor in July, Lewis told the assemblage, “There’s a deliberate and systematic attempt to prevent millions of elderly voters, young voters, students, minority and low-income voters from exercising their constitutional right to engage in the democratic process.”
Fighting Voter Disenfranchisement - Voting-rights organizations are fighting back as best they can. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is challenging several of the new voter-restriction laws in court. Congressional Democrats are pushing the Department of Justice to block or weaken laws that impede minority voters from exercising their rights. Lewis says, “The Justice Department should be much more aggressive in areas covered by the Voting Rights Act.” Meanwhile, many voting-rights experts predict chaos at the polls in November 2012, as voters react with confusion, frustration, and anger at being barred from voting. “Our democracy is supposed to be a government by, of, and for the people,” says Browne-Dianis. “It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what race you are, or where you live in the country—we all get to have the same amount of power by going into the voting booth on Election Day. But those who passed these laws believe that only some people should participate. The restrictions undermine democracy by cutting off the voices of the people.” [Rolling Stone, 8/30/2011]

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