*The following is an opinion column by R Muse*
Most Americans who are confronted by law enforcement officers are guilty of nothing more than exceeding the posted speed limit or rolling through a stop sign. Still, it is a little unnerving to be accused of violating a law by an armed police officer, particularly if the driver is an African American who, as a group, are more likely to be arrested, if not shot dead, than a white person.
Now imagine an African American man’s fear and anxiety when a sheriff’s deputy rolls up on him as he’s walking down the street in rural Sparta, Georgia where Blacks are arrested “at a disproportionately higher rate” than whites. In this particular case, the traffic stop was not over jay-walking, walking while intoxicated, or even walking while Black; it was for walking while being an African American registered voter. In Georgia, like many former Confederate and rust-belt states, the definition of voter fraud is being a Black registered voter.
In Sparta, the predominately white County Board of Elections and Registration singled out over 180 African American citizens, “a fifth of the city’s registered voters,” for interrogation over their voter registration prior to being purged from voter rolls. Just for the sake of terrorizing Blacks who dared register to vote, the white Elections Board “dispatched deputies” with official summons ordering them to appear and face questioning over their residency or lose their right to vote. As the Black man confronted by law enforcement for walking while registered to vote, Martee Flournoy, said, “When I read that letter, I was kind of nervous. I didn’t know what to do.”
In a lawsuit plaintiffs claimed what is glaringly obvious and a typical ploy since the conservative Supreme Court ruled racially-driven vote suppression is permissible and Constitutional; “give an edge to white candidates in Sparta’s municipal elections” and sure enough a white mayoral candidate won a very narrow victory in the November election.
According to on elections official who documented the intimidation and purge of African American voters, Marion Warren, “A lot of those people that were challenged probably didn’t vote, even though they weren’t proven to be wrong. People just do not understand why a sheriff is coming to their house to bring them a subpoena, especially if they haven’t committed any crime.” Warren did the right thing in raising an alarm, and besides carefully documenting Black voter purges, he alerted voting rights advocates who came to help preserve democracy.
Of course, the county attorney, also a Republican state legislator, Barry A. Fleming, said the lawsuit is bunk and defended the racially-driven voter intimidation as a valiant effort by white Republicans to try “restoring order to an electoral process tainted by corruption and incompetence.”
Obviously, to white Republicans “corruption and incompetence,” like being a registered African American voter, is not-so-subtle code for “voter fraud.” Besides, Fleming said, only a tiny fraction of the “targeted voters,” all African Americans, were ultimately purged from the rolls. It is likely every last one of the “targets” were intimidated sufficiently that many of them decided to be safe and avoid the ballot box. For the Republicans it meant mission accomplished and they likely sent a big thank you to conservatives on the High Court who eliminated any legal obstruction to racially-driven vote suppression.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s dismantling of a major part of the Voting Rights Act, the legality of specifically targeting African Americans was never in question because a state or locality had to get Justice Department pre clearance for blatant voter suppression laws. The idea of getting DOJ permission to send law enforcement officers to serve official summons on African Americans who were registered to vote was a Confederate state’s pipe dream. However, the SCOTUS conservatives concluded that racism no longer exists, especially in the former Confederacy, so white Republicans were entitled to intimidate and depress African American voters using any means at their disposal, including sending police to serve summons on African American voters.
Up until now, the reports were that Republican legislatures only enacted ALEC voter ID laws or eliminated early voting with the specific intent of disproportionately depressing minority voting. But now it is being reported that there are numerous voting changes being implemented at the city and county level across the Aryan-South and Republican-controlled states that aspire to be in the Confederacy.
This latest assault on democracy, particularly the right of people of color to participate in voting, is troubling indeed. As of late, three separate Republican-led states were assailed by three separate Federal Courts for enacting ALEC-written voter-ID laws, but they did not imagine localities Republicans control were implementing their own voter suppression laws using law enforcement to serve summons on African Americans commanding them to appear and suffer interrogation just to vote.
It is more than likely that there are many more instances of city and county election boards devising all manner of tactics to depress the African American vote. It is unclear how many Republican election officials are using the natural fear of law enforcement as a vote suppression tactic, but if it is being reported at all, there is little doubt it is happening often.
The real travesty of this Republican attack on democracy is that although the conservative Supreme Court wiped-out most of the Voting Rights Act protections, they also dispensed advice and counsel to the U.S. Congress to amend the VRA to account for state-level Republican racists who still believe voting while Black is election fixing and fraud.
However, with Republicans controlling Congress and no intent to lose that control by allowing all Americans to vote, the VRA is dead in the water and one wonders how long before Republicans send police to harass and intimidate white voters who are registered as Democrats. Think it couldn’t happen? African Americans probably thought they would never be confronted by police for being registered to vote, but this is America and doing anything, even being President, while being Black is reason enough for Republicans to cry fraud.