September 28, 2023

SB-7: History still repeating itself

By: William Trotter

Citizens, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 — it was considered the most successful civil rights law in the nation’s history. Surprisingly in 2013, the Supreme Court shredded a key provision: no longer would state and local governments with a history of racial discrimination in voting have to get pre-clearance from the Justice Department before making changes in voting procedures. Not long ago Chief Justice John Roberts essentially said that times had changed and that the law, in treating some states differently from others, was unconstitutional. Voter suppression has a long and ugly history in the U.S., and over the last two decades, it has resurfaced with a vengeance.

In fact, there are some hard at work erecting obstacles to voting.

The final Legislative proposals found in SB-7 which was negotiated in private by two Republican leaders from the House and Senate, was unveiled the day before Sine Die. While the bill was named Election Integrity Protection Act of 2021, it was meant to do anything but protect election integrity. The bill included tighter regulations on mail-in and early voting. It provided for:

  • A ban on drive-thru voting or polling places inside tents or other temporary structures, with no voting allowed from inside a vehicle except by those with a disability who qualify for curbside voting. An elimination of 24-hour voting or extended hours for in-person voting, which could begin no earlier than 6 a.m. and end no later than 9 p.m.
  • Polling places could not open before 1 p.m. on the last Sunday of early voting, a traditional day of “Souls to the Polls” events that are popular in Black churches.
  • Those who vote by mail would have to include their driver’s license number, their state ID number or the last four digits of their Social Security number on the inner envelope. Ballots must be rejected if the numbers aren’t included or do not match what the voter listed on the vote-by-mail application.
  • Those who help somebody cast an in-person ballot because of a physical limitation or language barrier would have to fill out a form listing their name, address and relationship to the voter and saying whether they accepted money or another benefit from “a candidate, campaign, or political committee.”
  • Those who drive three or more people to the polls for curbside voting would have to provide their name and address on a form provided by an election worker and indicate whether they are also providing help to a voter based on a disability. Drivers related to all passengers would be exempt.
  • The forms would be collected by the secretary of state’s office, which would have to provide them upon request to the state attorney general.
  • Voter registration applications could not be sent to prospective voters with their name and address filled in, a strategy that advocates say increases the likelihood of registration.
  • Vote-by-mail applications could be sent only to voters who request one, and a government official who violates the restriction could be charged with a state jail felony and be sentenced to up to two years in jail.
  • Several crimes were created and increased penalties for existing election-related offenses.
    • o The new crime of vote harvesting, defined as receiving compensation for interacting with voters with the intent to deliver votes for a specific candidate or ballot measure, would be a third-degree felony punishable by two to 10 years in prison.
    • o Elections officials who count invalid votes or reject valid ballots could be prosecuted for a state jail felony.
  • The bill also increased protections allowing poll watchers, who typically represent a political party or candidate, to observe conduct in polling places, in vote-counting centers and inside vehicles used for curbside voting by those with a disability. Watchers must be given free movement to observe events and must be allowed to sit or stand close enough to see and hear what’s going on, the bill added, that election workers who reject a poll watcher risk up to 180 days in jail for a Class B misdemeanor.
  • An added section would make it easier to overturn election results by showing that fraud changed the result by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning it was more likely than not, rather than proving that fraud changed the outcome. It was perplexing While individual voting fraud is rare, there have been significant cases of fraud in the collection and delivery of ballots. Most recently, in 2018, a North Carolina congressional election was set aside because of Republican vote-harvesting fraud, by Republican operatives. The these acts of state governments are occurring, U.S. Supreme Court conservatives have a 6-3 majority and will consider a case that could destroy the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found no evidence of such fraud in Arizona, and it struck down the ban on absentee ballot collection. The court said the ban violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bars voting laws that have an adverse impact on minorities, denying them an equal opportunity to vote, in light of the “totality of the circumstances.” The Arizona Republican Party appealed to the Supreme Court, where the case is seen as potentially pivotal for voting rights enforcement. Remember that Section 2 of the Voting Right Act, for all practical purposes, is the only big enforcement tool left. So the standard that the court sets for proving a violation is significantly important. In the United States of America, voting is a right of all citizens not a privilege bestowed by politicians. Many are acquainted with the period of slavery. Some are familiar with Reconstruction. Unfortunately many know little about the Jim Crow era. Black Codes instituted then were strict local and state laws that detailed when, where and how formerly enslaved people could work, and for how much compensation. These codes were legal ways to put Black citizens into indentured servitude, to take voting rights away, to control where they lived and how they traveled and to seize their children for labor purposes.

The legal system was stacked against Black citizens, with former Confederate soldiers working as police and judges, making it difficult for African Americans to win court cases and ensuring they were subject to Black codes. The Jim Crow period witnessed the organization of the Ku Klux Klan in 1865. The KKK terrorized Black communities and infiltrated white Southern culture, with KKK members functioning at the highest levels of government. Black populations soon moved to cities and, as the decade progressed, white city dwellers demanded more laws to limit opportunities for African Americans. [Public parks were forbidden for African Americans to enter, and theaters and restaurants were segregated. Segregated waiting rooms in bus and train stations were segregated, as well as water fountains, restrooms, building entrances, elevators, cemeteries, even amusement-park cashier windows. African Americans were prohibited from living in white neighborhoods. Segregation was also enforced for public pools, phone booths, hospitals, asylums, jails and residential homes for the elderly and handicapped]. Understand, de facto segregation is the direct manifestation of de jure {legal} segregation. We have seen the Brown v. Board of education rule that separate but equal was unconstitutional and today racial segregation has returned. This was a clear indication that you can change the laws but laws alone could not change the hearts and minds of many Americans.

These recent restrictive voting proposals in Texas and in other states are a clear and present threat to our American democracy itself. It is hard to imagine this is happening in 2021, far from 1865. These proposals are what you see in authoritarian governments and never imagined to be the approach of this democracy. In Texas and nationwide it is not voter fraud, it is but voter suppression that should closely monitored and eliminated.

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