Saturday, December 16, 2017

Putting Voter Suppression on the Map

As I mentioned in Dying to Vote after watching Selma last year, fear of black voters was the main motivator of those who violently opposed the civil-rights movement. Overcoming obstacles to the vote likewise became the chief concern of the movement. A half-century after the shameful events in Alabama, we all celebrate a narrow victory over bigotry in Alabama that would have been won by a wider margin, had the spirit of Bull Conner not continued to guide the state's political leadership.

The current "Weekend Read" article by the Southern Poverty Law Center is essential reading for anybody who is interested in the foundational concept of one person, one vote. That is, it should be essential reading for everybody. It details the many ways in which political elites in Alabama continue to work against the voting rights of African Americans. It is a very well-researched article, full of links to careful documentation of its alarming claims.

The 2013 reversal of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act led to predictable -- and predicted --outcomes. Alabama was among the first states to follow the Supreme Court's dog whistle, and to enact rules touted as preventing voter fraud but calculated to suppress votes.

An example can be found on the map of states in which a required photo-ID cannot be obtained, because of the closure of licensing offices. The U.S. Department of Transportation has confirmed what those who know Alabama can discern right away: this map disproportionately favors white voters.
Map: Kyle Whitmire
As blogger Kyle Whitmire of AL.com discerned by making his own map, the closure of licensing offices was guided by race. Just as a driver's license became essential to exercising one's Constitutional right to vote, the state closed licensing facilities in 8 of the 10 counties with the greatest proportion of minority voters, including many counties in the state's famed Black Belt, a region (shown in blue below) that voted most heavily for Doug Jones in the recent special election for the U.S. Senate.
Narrow victory over voter suppression.
Map: New York Times
The state did not limit its voter suppression to the one-two punch of requiring drivers licenses and then selectively closing the offices where they could be obtained. Ironically, Secretary of State John Merrill argued against the automatic voter registration that many states now attach to those very same licenses. Apparently in complete ignorance of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, he argued that "just because you turned 18 doesn't give you the right to do anything."

Alabama is not the sole exponent of voter suppression in the U.S., of course, nor has the practice historically been limited to one party or the other. As the demographics of the country shift toward more racial diversity, however, the use of maps, registration rules, immigration law, and criminal law to suppress votes increases.

All of these tools are increasingly favored as ways for politicians to choose their voters, rather than taking the risk of allowing the reverse to happen. My Bad Salamander post cites some particularly egregious examples of mapping with political intent; my Embattled Borderlands and Human Sieve posts, while not specifically about voting, hint at the political uses of immigration policies.

Lagniappe

Although many of Roy Moore's partisan supporters argued that the "voters of Alabama" should settle the question of whether the accused pedofile should serve as a U.S. Senator, they are now working feverishly to suppress those voters for just long enough to preclude their input on a "tax bill" that will restructure wealth distribution, environmental protection, health care, reproductive rights, and much more. Sen. Mitch McConnell -- who initially opposed Roy Moore -- is now rushing the bill through the senate, while delaying the seating of Senator Jones, a well-known nemesis of the KKK.

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