Nel's New Day

August 26, 2013

Women’s Equality Day: Don’t Destroy Right To Vote

President Barack Obama has declared that today is Women’s Equality Day; 93 years ago the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, mandating that women in the United States can vote, became law, thanks to 24-year-old Harry Burn, a member of the Tennessee Assembly, and his mother, Mrs. J.L. Burn (Febb Ensminger) of Niota.

Proposed by Congress on June 14, 1919, the amendment needed ratification from a minimum of 36 states out of the existing 48. By Summer 1920, 35 states had approved the amendment. Three more states refused to call special sessions, but Tennessee met to vote on the proposed amendment. Burn was committed to vote against the ratification until he received a letter from his mother, which he held during the voting session on August 18, 1920. The letter read in part:

“Dear Son: Hurrah and vote for suffrage! Don’t keep them in doubt! I notice some of the speeches against. They were bitter. I have been watching to see how you stood, but have not noticed anything yet. Don’t forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the “rat” in ratification. Your mother”

Burn’s “yea” vote broke the 48-48 tie, allowing the amendment to move into the U.S. Constitution. The next day he spoke to the House, telling them that his mother had asked him to vote in favor of the amendment and that she had always taught him that “a good boy always does what his mother asks him to do.”

Nine-three years after Burn voted for women’s suffrage, the constitutional right to vote is in danger. Within the past few years, 12 states passed laws requiring that voters show photo identification in order to vote, and another 13 states are considering this legislation. Other punitive laws include shortening the time to vote, restricting the number of precincts, limited voter registration, purging legitimate voters from registration, and putting hurdles in the way of voter reinstatement. It is estimated that at least 5 million legal voters may be disenfranchised from voting, despite the fact that voter fraud at the polls is almost non-existent.

Currently North Carolina is the epitome of voting restrictions, trying to prevent voting by college students although the Supreme Court ruled against this practice. Ironically, whenever Gov. Pat McCrory was asked about the specifics of these laws, he indicated that he didn’t know what was in them although he signed them.

These decisions from GOP-controlled county election boards are shown by the the one in Watauga County:

  • Eliminate the Appalachian State University (ASU) early one-stop voting site.
  • Outlaw any verbal public comment at Board meetings.
  • Require that the 27-year Elections Board Director not be allowed to meet with anyone in her office without supervision.
  • Mandate that anyone calling into the local BOE office have their names recorded.
  • Move the “New River” precinct (a heavily populated precinct in and around the town of Boone) out into the very corner of the precinct into a virtually unknown location and as far away from municipal voters as possible.
  • Combine three Boone precincts into one Super Precinct consisting of 9,300 voters and 35 parking spaces—and as far away from Appalachian State University as possible.

The Supreme Court ruling against the Voting Rights Act, allowing the Justice Department to allow punitive voting “reforms” from going into effect, is just one step to support the GOP plan to win elections by stopping Democrats from voting. A bigger problem is the opinion that Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in an Arizona case about its requirement that new voters present citizenship documents, stating that states—not Congress—decide who has the right to vote.

Also Bush v. Gore (2000), which appointed George W. Bush as president, ruled that U.S. citizens don’t have a constitutional right to vote for the president. State legislatures control that right through their legal ability to appoint presidential electors. The only control that the constitution has on voting is to ban discrimination on the basis of race (15th Amendment), sex (19th Amendment), and age (26th Amendment). In fact, when Susan Myrick explained the North Carolina law, she said, that people who went to the wrong precinct could use provisional ballots. She then said, “[The provisional ballot] probably won`t be counted.”

Not all Republicans are satisfied with the GOP attempt to stop voters. When former Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke in North Carolina, he said that the state’s voting restrictions are bad for the public—and the Republican Party.

“I want to see policies that encourage every American to vote, not make it more difficult to vote. It immediately turns off a voting block the Republican Party needs. These kinds of actions do not build on the base. It just turns people away. You can say what you like, but there is no voter fraud. How can it be widespread and undetected?”

Dallas County is the first county in Texas to request an injunction against the state’s voter ID law. By a 3-2 vote, the commissioners’ court stated that the requirements would disenfranchise thousands of eligible voters. A hearing is set for September 27 with a trial possibly next summer. Meanwhile, several counties have either had or are scheduling elections.

Texas is already trying to defend itself against a federal lawsuit because a federal court has found that the state used racial discrimination to draw its district lines. Texas AG Greg Abbott’s defense uses the claim that the state drew the lines in an effort to win the elections: “[i]n 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats.”

Following is a letter that I wrote to my local newspaper. Readers are welcome to use any part of it that they wish to educate their community about the voter suppression in the United States:

“To the Editor:

“Seventy-one years ago, 92-year-old Rosanell Eaton was one of the first blacks in North Carolina to pass a literacy test allowing her to vote. In the year of her first vote, 1942, women in the United States had been able to vote for 22 years after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution became law on August 26, 1920—42 years after it was first proposed.

“Now, 93 years after women earned the vote, more females vote than men, but state voter-suppression laws are threatening women with loss of the vote by demanding photo ID at the polls. The argument for these draconian laws is voter fraud. Misrepresentation at the polls, however, has averaged one case each year for the past ten years. On the other hand, photo ID laws disenfranchise millions of voters.

“Eaton is one of those. Her name on her birth certificate differs from the name on her driver’s license and voter registration card, and taking care of this problem will require excessive time and money. For example, when 91-year-old Virginia Lasser went to the Tennessee department of motor vehicles to get a photo ID, she found a line of 100 people in front of her, no place for her to sit, and no help from state workers even after she asked. Lasater has voted and worked on campaigns for 70 years.

“Dorothy Cooper, 96, took a number of documents, including her birth certificate, to get a photo ID, but the birth certificate had her maiden name. She was denied, despite the fact that she voted under the Jim Crow laws of the 20th century.

“Viviette Applewhite, 93, marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. 50 years ago but can’t get a photo ID because her papers were stolen from her purse. She paid the fees to the state of Pennsylvania for a birth certificate but still wasn’t able to get it.

“Many elderly people don’t have birth certificates because they were born at home. Some states require a birth certificate to get a photo ID, but people cannot get a birth certificate without a photo ID. The certificates also cost between $7 and $30, a large amount of money for the very poor.

“The voter suppression laws don’t refer specifically to women, but that gender is affected in greater numbers than men. Most men have not changed their names since they were born and are more likely to have documents from their work and their military service. Women who worked as domestics are far less likely to have Social Security cards and drivers’ licenses than men.

“Only 66 percent of voting-age women with proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal names. Also 52 percent of women don’t have their legal names on their birth certificates. In some states, women are required to bring both their birth certificates and documents proving legal citizenship—twice as many documents as men have to bring to the polls in order to vote.

“At this time, over a dozen states have photo ID laws, and another 15 have pending legislation or laws that are being questioned in court. With the Supreme Court decision that states can make any restrictive laws that they wish, that situation may change. Currently, Oregon is the only state in the nation that requires vote by mail although occasionally politicians consider changing the law, using the argument that many other activities such as buying alcohol or flying require photo ID. We hope that they will remember that transportation and purchases are not guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution; voting is.

“If you are one of the people in the United States who think there is no problem in obtaining the necessary photo ID in states with these laws, you are a member of the elite. The women of the United States and of Oregon celebrate the 19th Amendment to the Constitution and Oregon’s voting laws that give us equality in the voting process.

You can commemorate Women’s Equality Day by spreading the word about voter suppression in the United States.

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