Voter Fraud Double-Speak

Voter Fraud: an Orwellian term, wielded to roll back voting rights. Purveyors of this term have trumped up a faux crisis, replete with images of black and brown people storming the polls and casting illegitimate ballots in such numbers that they are swaying the outcomes of elections. Proponents of this faux crisis cleverly pivoted the nation’s genuine concern for voter suppression in the wake of the 2000 election. They have succeeded in pushing new ‘voting rules’ in several states, from Ohio to Texas, Arkansas to Wisconsin to North Carolina, sowing confusion and guaranteeing more voter suppression during this crucial mid-term election.

“Voter fraud” is doublespeak for “if you are not a Republican-leaning, white citizen, we don’t want you to exercise your right to vote.” We are in a moment of such stark contradictions: a Black President whose presence in the mid-terms has been muted by his own party; a shift in demographics that carries the possibility of real political power for people of color, a real leap-forward for democratic participation in society; renewed interest in shifting, and democratizing, economic priorities. Thanks to the fight-back in Ferguson, we see movement in some of the communities that have been left behind economically, and targeted for criminalization and a militarized police presence. At the same time, those who want to expand democratic power are up against a reactionary old order, with its assumptions about white entitlement and cultural/economic superiority. Unfortunately, they hold the reins of Congress, and a majority of State legislatures, and they have deep pockets. Which means, they no longer have to conceal their real agenda: whole-scale disenfranchisement of communities of color, especially poor and working class black communities, by any means necessary.  Voter suppression is but one weapon in their arsenal; militarized policing and hyper-incarceration are part of the larger context for current efforts to suppress voter engagement in low-income communities. To be fair, both parties have been complicit in creating this political and economic climate in low income communities. But it is the Republican Party that stands to gain from the recent raft of voting policies. 

To see how little regard they hold for the notion of universal voting rights and democratic representation, consider the fate of Washington, DC. The good citizens of DC have no voting representation in Congress. They are not part of a state, have no congressional district, and, while they now have what is called ‘home rule,’ meaning they can vote on city council members and their Mayor, Congress can and does intervene in the city’s affairs. Congress routinely threatens the city’s revenue streams if the city council or voters do something they don’t like. Examples over the past twenty years include: gun control measures, needle exchange programs, recognition of civil unions, public funding for abortion services, and even the city’s effort to abolish the death penalty. On the question of statehood for DC, Congress has made its position clear: it is not going to happen, because the city is too black and too supportive of the Democratic Party. No doubt, if DC were majority white and Republican-leaning, it would have won full representation in Congress 20 years ago.

What does all of this mean for the forward march of American democracy? It has been stalled. Among the victims of voter suppression is the hope for and belief in the possibility for change, for a democratic society that is truly inclusive, one in which all communities have political and economic power and self-determination. What is lost are the best ideals upon which this nation was founded, as those in power cling to the race-based prerogatives that also were part of the foundation of our nation.