By George E. Curry
The 50th anniversary of the signing of the Voting Rights Act fell on the same day that Fox News hosted two Republican presidential debates (Aug. 6). But the landmark legislation was never mentioned by the questioners nor the candidates. And we know why.
Under the headline, “What Media Need to Know About The Debating GOP Candidates’ Disdain for Voting Rights,” Media Matters, the watchdog group, pointed out: “…with the help of most of the Republican politicians currently running for president, voting rights have been steadily rolled back in recent years.”
Media Matters provided this recap of efforts to weaken voting rights laws by the leading GOP presidential candidates:
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – Under his administration, 12,000 eligible voters were wrongly purged from the voting rolls in Florida prior to the 2000 election. They were incorrectly identified as convicted felons and thus ineligible to vote. Though Black voters accounted for only 11 percent of the state electorate, they were 41 percent of those purged. In 2004, Bush also signed a bill into law that limited early voting hours to 14 days for early voting and restricted early voting to election offices, city halls and libraries.
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) – He supported a purge of voter rolls in 2012 that disproportionately targeted Democrats and people of color. Rubio also supported discriminatory voter ID laws, asking, “What’s the big deal.” The big deal, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, is that 11 percent of all eligible voters do not have government-issued ID, a disproportion of them Black and Latino.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich – Media Matters quoted a MSNBC report that stated, “The Ohio governor has quietly played a crucial role in the Republican effort to pare back voting rights … Just since last year, he’s signed laws that: reduce early voting and eliminate same-day voter registration; reduce the minimum number of voting machines that counties must have on hand; make it easier to purge voters from the rolls; make it more likely that provisional ballots will be rejected; and make it harder to obtain an absentee ballot. The early voting cuts are the subject of a lawsuit in federal court, alleging that they discriminate against African-Americans.”
U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) – He attempted to add a voter ID amendment to an immigration reform bill and tried to amend a voter registration law to allow states to require proof of citizenship before being allowed to vote. Cruz strongly supported the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder that weakened a key provision of the Voting Rights Act.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee – He is a strong proponent of voter ID laws. Quoting the Washington Post, the Media Matters noted, “The former Arkansas governor told the crowd at an Americans for Prosperity conference last month that sometimes he thinks the United States has less freedom than North Korea. “When I go to the airport, I have to get in the surrender position. People put hands all over me. And I have to provide photo ID in a couple of different forms and prove that I really am not going to terrorize the airplane. But if I want to go vote, I don’t need a thing.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – In 2013, he vetoed a bill allowing early voting at polling places. Earlier this year, he vowed to veto legislation that would have mandated automatic voter registration and allowed online registration and two weeks of early voting.
U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) – “Paul said that he supports increased voting access, citing legislation he co-sponsored to restore voting rights to some convicted felons. But voter ID requirements are OK, he said, as long as Republicans don’t talk about it too loudly,” Media Matters stated.
Dr. Ben Carson – New York magazine observed, “In [his book] One Vote, Carson offers an enthusiastic endorsement: ‘I hope everyone (minorities included) across America will take responsibility for having proper identification documents, which are very easy to obtain as long as one does not wait until the last minute to acquire them.’ He is also fine with ‘fees’ for these IDs – knowing full well, as all Republicans are fond of saying, that ‘fee’ is a euphemism for tax and in this case a poll tax.”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker – He signed a discriminatory voter ID law that was later ruled unconstitutional. Walker also signed a bill capping early voting hours and ending weekend voting, a move that an expert said would affect “roughly 300,000 Wisconsin residents, most of whom are African American and Latinos.” In addition, he signed bills that made it harder for college students to use their IDs as proof of residence when registering to vote, eliminated straight-ticket voting except for overseas and military voters, eliminated faxing or emailing absentee ballots except for those overseas or serving in the military and barred clerks from returning absentee ballots to voters so they could fix mistakes prior to an election.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA) and BlackPressUSA.com. He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook. See previous columns at http://www.georgecurry.com/columns.