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Nothing new in the GOP’s drive to take back the 2020 election

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

The GOP is bound and determined to take back the 2020 election. Just how bound and determined? GOP-controlled state legislatures in more than two dozen states have introduced a tsunami of bills aimed at making sure there is no repeat of the 2020 election. The bills are mostly a rehash of the by now all-too-familiar voter suppression stuff. They include scrapping or severely limiting mail-in balloting, mandatory IDs, purging voter rolls of those who change addresses, eliminating ballot drop boxes, shortening days and hours for drop-in voting and same-day balloting. There’s even some talk of circling back on the cockamamie ploy by Trump’s Postmaster General to eliminate neighborhood mailboxes.

To cover their blatant and insulting attempt to hijack all future elections, GOP vote-suppressors continue to spin the shopworn lie that the bills are aimed at ensuring elections are fair, equitable and free of fraud. Trump virtually institutionalized the lie of voter fraud by Democrats. However, long before Trump emerged on the presidential scene, the GOP concocted every ploy it could come up with to permanently excise as many Blacks, Hispanics, youth and gays from the polls as possible. The assault began virtually the instant the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed.

In the 50-plus years since the passage of the Act, a succession of GOP leaders, girded by various federal court decisions and the reflexive-rightist U.S. Supreme Court justices, waged relentless war on the Act. The deal in the initial passage of the Act was that it be renewed every 25 years. And when it has come up for renewal, a pack of GOP senators has loudly screamed that the Act is outdated and unnecessary. When it came up for renewal in 1981, hardline ultraconservatives in the Reagan administration made loud threats to push Reagan to oppose its renewal. They were idle threats, and  Reagan, with no fanfare, signed the renewal legislation. When it came up for renewal again in 2006, the threats turned into a mini-movement in Congress to delay or even block passage. A pack of House Republicans stalled the legislation for more than a week and demanded that hearings be held.

The Act ignited the explosion in the number of Black, Hispanic, Asian, women and Native American voters and the election of thousands of their number to local state and federal offices. The jewel in the crown was the election in 2008 of President Barack Obama.

The standard attack line has always been that the Act punishes the South for past voting-discrimination sins, and that the thousands of Black and Hispanic legislators in the South, Southwest and West are supreme proof that race-based voter suppression was a thing of a long-gone past. Though Bush and Reagan signed the renewal orders, the GOP served notice that the early saber-rattle against the Act was a just a warm-up for a full frontal assault. The GOP pecked at eroding the Act with the rash of photo ID laws enacted by GOP governors and state legislatures in recent years. The aim was to damp down the number of minority and poor voters that overwhelmingly vote Democratic.

Then, enter the U.S. Supreme Court. In the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case, the Alabama county claimed the Act is outdated, discriminatory, and a federal intrusion into states’ rights. The lawsuit explicitly wanted the centerpiece of the Act, Section 5, dumped. Section 5 mandates that states get “preclearance” from the Justice Department before making any voting procedure changes. Attorneys general in several states endorsed the Alabama County’s challenge. Chief Justice John Roberts bluntly said that things have changed in the South and Blacks supposedly vote everywhere in the South without barriers or prohibitions. Clarence Thomas went even further and flatly called Section 5 of the Act unconstitutional. The provision was scrapped.

This was only part of the story of GOP roadblocks. A study by the Alliance for Justice, a Washington D.C.-based public interest group, documented legions of complaints and challenges filed by the Justice Department and voting rights groups about discriminatory changes that eliminate or narrow the number of voters in predominantly minority districts.

Now we have 100-plus GOP bills and almost certainly more on the way. And as the GOP’s long and shameful vote suppression history shows, there’s nothing new in this.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.

GOP, opinion, voting laws
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