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VIEWPOINT:

SCOTUS hopes to kill the Voting Rights Act

...and the Democrats have helped to make the case.

by Mark Crispin Miller
Monday, 12 January 2009
Chief Justice Roberts is not keen on efforts to protect minority voters; and so it's very possible that he and his extremist brethren on the Court will rule so as to void the renewal of the Voting Rights Act.
On Friday, the New York Times reported (see below) that the Supreme Court will rule on whether Congress had the right to extend the Voting Rights Act. Specifically, SCOTUS will decide the constitutionality of Congress's renewal of Section 5—the Act's provision that certain states and municipalities get federal permission (called "preclearance") before making any changes that affect the voting by their residents.

The states concerned are mostly in the South, and all have had rich histories of electoral malfeasance, largely aimed at disenfranchising minority voters. The Southern states are Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia; and the list also includes Arizona and Alaska.

It was in May of 2006 that Congress, then Republican-controlled, unanimously voted to extend the Voting Rights Act, removing none of its provisions. At the time that vote appeared to be a nice surprise, since some Republicans had wanted to renew the Act selectively. In fact, that overwhelming vote in favor of the Act was only "a facade," as Linda Greenhouse notes in her op-ed (below).

"They allowed the extension to pass," she writes, "on the assumption that the Supreme Court would eventually answer the question, relieving them of the political cost of dismantling an iconic statute."

So here we are. As both Greenhouse and Adam Liptak note, Chief Justice Roberts is not keen on efforts to protect minority voters; and so it's very possible that he and his extremist brethren on the Court will rule so as to void the Act's renewal. Thus they would continue with the radical assault on democratic governance that SCOTUS started, or intensified, with Bush v. Gore—which, of course, not only put Bush/Cheney in the White House, but also served to fortify the Court's own ultra-right plurality.

But we can't treat this new judicial threat to our democracy as an entirely rightist move, or blame this situation only on Bush/Cheney. Of course, the Senate Democrats did not mount any strong resistance to Bush/Cheney's choice of Roberts or Alito; but what we're facing now is based on a far larger abdication of responsibility—not just by nearly all the Democrats (our President-elect included), but by the press as well (and that, of course, includes the New York Times).

Both the Democratic Party and "the liberal media" have both refused even to note, much less investigate, the Bush regime's unprecedented program of election fraud and vote suppression.

For both the Democratic Party and "the liberal media" have both refused even to note, much less investigate, the Bush regime's unprecedented program of election fraud and vote suppression; and that long silence has allowed the Bush Republicans to argue, with straight faces, that the only such wrongdoing has been perpetrated by the Democrats. Meanwhile, says Bush/Cheney's party, Jim Crow is a distant memory, since no-one is denied the right to vote on racial grounds, nor has that sort of thing occurred for many years.

It is on the basis of that crackpot argument that SCOTUS now intends to nullify the Voting Rights Act. The case that Roberts and his brethren have agreed to hear—Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Mukasey—argues that there's simply no more need for those once-infamous localities to seek "preclearance" to make any changes in their voting rules. The lawsuit argues bluntly that "the times they have a-changed," that citizens throughout the land now cast their votes without impediment, and that it's therefore time for We the People to move on, without that onerous and shameful Section 5:

The America that has elected Barack Obama as its first African-American president is far different than when §5 was first enacted in 1965. Appellees barely acknowledge the deep-rooted societal change, preferring to assume that conditions remain similarly dire despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. There is no warrant for continuing to presume that jurisdictions first identified four decades ago as needing extraordinary federal oversight through §5 remain uniformly incapable or unwilling to fulfill their obligations to faithfully protect the voting rights of all citizens in those parts of the country.

For anyone with even cursory knowledge of what's really happened in US elections since 2000, that argument is staggering. It is, in fact, as wild a misconstruction of the truth as any other ultra-rightist myth—e.g., that there's no scientific evidence of natural selection, or that "global warming" is a hoax, or that the Holocaust was all made up. And so it should have been, quite literally, laughed out of court (even that court). But it was not—because the truth about US elections has been ignored, shrugged off and/or suppressed since Bush & Co.'s first stolen presidential race eight years ago. Thus both the Democratic Party and the press apparently believe that ultra-right canard, because they don't know, or don't want to know, what's really happened here.

An adequate rebuttal of that lie would take up far more space than I have here; and anyone who wants to know the truth can get it from the many books and articles and documentaries now readily available. Suffice it here to say that, while the lawsuit claims that things have universally improved since 1965, the evidence makes clear that, since 2000, things have gotten just as bad as they once were, or even worse—albeit voters black and brown and red (and student voters of all colors) are now deprived of their essential civil right not through crude violence, as in Selma once upon a time, but through methods infinitely subtler, and far more efficient.

Here I am not referring only to those well-known hot-spots in the history of Bush/Cheney's own "elections," like Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004. Take Nov. 4, 2008—when America "elected Barack Obama as its first African-American president." On that day, the evidence suggests, millions of Obama's fellow-citizens—most of them black—were disenfranchised through those various non-violent tricks long since perfected by the Bush machine, and now used broadly on behalf of John McCain and Sarah Palin, Ted Stevens and John Sununu, as well as many other candidates who won (or "won").

This year's national turnout was, according to a range of sources, actually no higher, or only slightly higher, than it was four years ago—notwithstanding the unprecedented spike in Democratic voter registration, Democratic turnout, and bipartisan enthusiasm for, or grudging acceptance of, the Democratic candidate.

Such mass disenfranchisement explains why this year's national turnout was, according to a range of sources, actually no higher, or only slightly higher, than it was four years ago—notwithstanding the unprecedented spike in Democratic voter registration, Democratic turnout, and bipartisan enthusiasm for, or grudging acceptance of, the Democratic candidate. (Even more bizarre, the "record turnout" in Ohio was somehow lower than it was four years before, as the Columbus Dispatch reported with bemusement.)

The disenfranchisement also helps explain "Obama's negative coat-tails," with other Democratic campaigns somehow gaining no advantage from his rise—like (for example) Al Franken's Senate race in Minnesota, where Obama won by twenty points, while Franken ended up in a dead heat with the incumbent, Norm Coleman—who'd been lagging in the pre-election polls, while the exit polls had Franken up by some 12 points. (On Nov. 7, AP reported that the Senate "undervotes" in Minnesota popped up mostly in those districts carried by Obama.)

And in 2008, the volume of phone calls to the national voter hotlines was as great as it had been four years before--or greater, as there were many more such hotlines up and running in this last election. (Indeed, Obama's victory was due in part to just such services, and to the vigilance of those who worked with them, and those who used them.) 1-866-OUR-VOTE, the largest of them all (run by the Election Protection Coalition), received 100,000 complaint calls by the morning of Nov. 3. Meanwhile, 1-800-MYVOTE1 (run by Voter Action) received 116,000 complaint calls throughout the weeks of early voting through Election Day, while CNN received over 40,000 complaint calls on Election Day itself; and thousands more were phoned in to the several other, smaller hotlines operating nationwide.

And yet, of course, the vast majority of those voters, or would-be voters, who were wrongly told that they weren't registered, or who had their votes flipped electronically, or who couldn't wait on line for hours, and so on—most of the thwarted voters made no calls to hotlines. (And then there were those countless others whose votes were likely flipped, or just erased, without their seeing it.) For example, in DuPage County, Illinois--right in Obama's own back yard—election monitors collected affidavits from 350 people who, on Election Day, discovered that their names had been purged from the voter rolls, and who therefore either weren't allowed to vote or had to cast provisional ballots. "Only one of these citizens was Caucasian," reported Jean Kaczmarek, in an email, on Nov. 12. "We have brought this to the attention of the local media," she added, "but, so far, nothing has been reported."

So it was in many states—including those named in the lawsuit now before the Supreme Court. According to that warped petition, "there is no warrant for continuing to presume" that the officials in those places "remain... unwilling to fulfill their obligation to faithfully protect the voting rights of all citizens in those parts of the country." That otherworldly claim would come as news to all those Democrats who stood in line for hours throughout the South; or to those who saw their votes flipped in Texas, Mississippi and South Carolina (as well as West Virginia); or to those Democratic voters in Virginia (and Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey) who reported frequent freezes, crashes and other problems with the e-voting machines.

That claim would also come as news to election monitors in Arizona—especially in Maricopa County, where 15 out of every 100 voters had to cast provisional ballots, and in Pima County (where two months before, election monitor John Brakey was arrested when he tried to scrutinize the serial numbers on the bags of ballots cast in Arizona's primary). And then there is Alaska, where, amazingly, the turnout was reported as the lowest ever in the state, down by 11%—even with Sarah Palin on the ballot—while over 30,000 Democrats who'd voted for John Kerry didn't feel like voting for Barack Obama (even though the Democrats had registered over 20,000 new voters, and had organized the three largest political rallies in Alaska's history). And then there was the startlingly strong showing of incumbent Senator Ted Stevens, who, despite his felony conviction and feeble showing in the pre-election polls, somehow maintained a constant lead (of roughly three to five thousand votes) throughout Election Night (and who was finally beaten only when they started to hand-count the absentee ballots).

This election was stolen from Obama, insofar as his true victory margin was no doubt considerably larger than we think—not just a "decisive victory" as the media (and he) have termed it, but a landslide.

And all of this amounts to a mere fraction of the evidence that this election too was stolen—even though Barack Obama was indeed elected as our "first African-American president." This election, first of all, was stolen from him, insofar as his true victory margin was no doubt considerably larger than we think—not just a "decisive victory" as the media (and he) have termed it, but a landslide, which, if it had not been whittled down by electronic fraud and vote suppression, would have made quite clear that Bush & Co.'s party is dead meat. This election, secondly, was very likely stolen from a number of Democratic challengers for several House and Senate seats. And yet most important is the fact that this election too was stolen from those voters—mostly African-American, like Obama—whose participation was illegally (or "legally") pre-empted or annulled, so that they could not participate in our self-government; and if they were wrongly disenfranchised, our votes too mean that much less, however happy we may be about who "won."

If we really care about the voting rights of all our fellow-citizens, then it is not enough to cheer Obama's victory, which, historic though it is, counts for much less than the democracy which he is now about to lead. So if we really care about those rights of ours, we have to face the fact that this democracy is in the gravest danger still--supremely threatened not just by Bush/Cheney's party and their Court, but, no less, by the silence of the press, and of the Democrats, and of our President-elect. And so we have to break that silence now, or it will finish us at last, whichever party manages the show.


Mark Crispin Miller, a professor of media ecology at New York University, recently edited a book about voting fraud, Loser Take All, a compendium of investigative reports. Miller researches such topics as modern propaganda, history and tactics of advertising, American film, and media ownership. His recent books include The Bush Dyslexicon and Cruel and Unusual: Bush/Cheney's New World Order.



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This story was published on January 12, 2009.