Georgia was the canary-in-the-coal-mine for voting suppression. Pressuring major corporations and organizations like the NCAA and MLB have yielded results, but it is too late to change the situation in Georgia. Still it seems corporate pressure could be an effective tool, especially in states that have yet to vote on their worst impulses. Here in South Carolina the concerns of BMW, Boeing, Michelin, Prisma Health and other large corporations may gain the ear of Republican legislators, far more than those of their constituents.
Planning to reach out to those corporations? Here’s some information you can arm yourself with.
By Steve Evered
In the 2020 Presidential Election, 155 million Americas voted. This represented nearly 67 percent of the voting eligible population which was the highest turnout percentage in 120 years.
In South Carolina, 72 percent of all registered voters cast a ballot which, while significant, was less than the record 76 percent who voted in 2008. Nearly one million registered voters in South Carolina chose not to vote in 2020.
Voting in American elections is not compulsory – as is the case in Australia and some other countries – but is encouraged as part of our civic responsibility as a citizen. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves. For the most part, the history of voting in the United States is a story of expanding the electorate. It is however, usually two steps forward and one step back.
- At our Nation’s inception, basically only property owning or tax-paying white males could vote. Voting expanded early in our history, but only for white males. The vote was actually taken away for free Black males in Pennsylvania (1838).
- The era of Jim Crow began after the adoption of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which prevented states from denying the right to vote on grounds of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” In the 1880’s, Chinese-Americans lost the right to vote and to become citizens through the Chinese Exclusion Act (those rights were restored by Congressional action in 1943).
- The 17th Amendment of the Constitution (1913) gave voters – not state legislatures – the right to directly elect Senators.
- In 1920, women finally got the right to vote as a result of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
- In the early 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren decided a number of cases which establishes the “one man, one vote” electoral system in the United States.
- The Voting Rights Act of 1965 protects voter registration and voting for racial minorities (later applied to language minorities). A 25-year extension to the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1982.
- In 1993, the National Voter Registration Act, the so-called “Motor-Voter” bill was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The legislation was championed for years by Senate co-sponsors Wendell Ford, a Democrat from Kentucky and Mark Hatfield, a Republican from Oregon. It had been vehemently opposed by Ford’s colleague from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell.
- Since 2000, various states have restored the rights of convicted felons to vote; imposed waiting periods for convicted felons after they have served their sentences; or have changed the rules for previously disenfranchised convicted felons.
- In 2013, the Supreme Court finds unconstitutional the requirement in the Voting Rights Act that states or local governments that want to change their voting laws must appeal to the Attorney General.
The fact is that the ability for all United States citizens to vote somewhat unencumbered has only occurred in the last 55 years.
The big lie that has been perpetrated by former President Trump and many of his followers that the 2020 election was stolen has resulted in 361 bills being considered in 47 states that would make it more difficult for citizens to vote. This is occurring in spite of the evidence that the 2020 election was the most secure in our history.
Beyond the big lie is the fact that Republicans see the demographic writing on the wall. In the not-too-distant future, the United States will be a majority minority country. This means that the majority of Americans will be non-white.
Given this fact, Republicans have a choice: They can acknowledge this demographic reality by putting forth policy ideas that appeal to broader cross-section of the country, or they can put in place roadblocks to make it harder for all Americans to register to vote and have access to the ballot box. Republicans are doing everything in their power to stop the clock from ticking. They may be able to slow the clock down, but they will never be able to stop it.
The Heritage Foundation touts its election fraud database and makes the claim that there have been 1,317 cases of fraud resulting in 1,134 criminal convictions. One has to look at the database, however, to see that the cases of fraud and criminal convictions go from 2021 back nearly 40 years to 1982. That’s roughly 33 cases of fraud each year across all 50 states and in every election (primaries, special elections, municipal elections, general elections, etc.). Most of the legislation that is being written to “fix” the problem of voter fraud are “solutions looking for a problem.”
This is true in South Carolina where legislation is being considered to place more power over elections in a state election commission. This legislation would have the governor and members of the General Assembly appoint members to the commission. It takes control and authority away from the county election offices and adds undue partisanship to the electoral process. This is being done because there was one criminal conviction in South Carolina and that occurred in 2008. If our elected officials are so concerned about the integrity of the electoral process, they should call for a committee to thoroughly review the current status of state and county election commission responsibilities and authorities.
Large corporations and regional headquarters have a vested interest in the civic life of their employees. That they have safe neighborhoods to live in, that they are able to afford homes, have good schools, and keep their families safe. And that their rights as Americans will be respected. Minority – and particularly African American – employees may find states with restrictive voting measures a less hospitable environment in which to live and raise their families. These same corporations have diversity goals and multicultural multinational workforces, not to mention national brands. Can Coca Cola “teach the world to sing” if it will not stand up for the rights of all voters in its home state?
Simply put, voting should not be hard. It should be easy, convenient and fair for everyone. Legislation being considered now by Congress – HR 1 known as the For The People Act – would streamline our electoral process and bring much needed ethical reforms to our political system.
It is the antidote to the voter suppression bills gaining ground in a majority of states.