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Right to Disenfranchise [OPINION]

Voting Booth
Photo by Matthew Cavanaugh/Getty Images

The Supreme Court’s ruling on the Voting Rights Act has opened up a fairly predictable can of worms. Anyone paying a lick of attention during the last Presidential election, and not getting all their news from right-wing media, had to have heard the back and forth over ID requirements and early voting days as Republicans sought to suppress turnout of traditionally Democratic voters.

The ink was barely dry on the ruling that deemed the list of states that need federal preapproval in order to change election laws unconstitutional before Republicans in some of those states moved to change their election systems in ways that would not have gotten federal approval. Despite the overwhelmingly bipartisan consensus when the Voting Rights Act was given a 25 year renewal in 2006, there isn’t much hope that today’s bitterly divided Congress is going to be able to pull itself together and craft a new formula to again give teeth to the still constitutional preclearance clause.

Even if an agreement could be reached, it would be a bubblegum and paperclips solution to a problem that requires a complete rebuild. It is time to take decisions about who can vote, when they can vote and the process of how they must vote out of state hands; at least for federal elections.

Take voting rights for convicted felons as an example; why should the rules differ in elections for President, US Senate, and US House of Representatives as to who can vote? Why can convicted felons vote absentee while incarcerated in Maine and Vermont, but lose their right to vote permanently in Florida and 11 other states? The same standard ought to apply everywhere, whatever the standard may ultimately be.

Ask yourself why suspension or elimination of voting rights for felons exists at all. Is it reasonable to think that felons will form their own political party and elect their brethren to office? No, not hardly; but the more than 5 million people who are currently disenfranchised due to felony conviction are disproportionately black and Hispanic, groups that in the last election went for Obama 19 to 1 and 3 to 1 respectively.

Similar calculations go into ID requirements, elimination of early voting days, the gerrymandering of districts, and even how many and what type of voting machines go to which polling places.

A seat in the US Congress is a federal office, and therefore federal rules should apply to the election to that office. A nonpartisan office, such as the Census, ought to be drawing district lines based simply on raw population numbers and nothing else. There should be a standardized voting method that includes a voter verified paper trail. A federal rule should apply as to registration procedures, ID requirements, voting days and hours, number of polling places and machines per person, and a standard set of recount procedures. As US citizens we are all affected by each and every Congressional member’s vote, so the process that gets them into Congress should be the same for all of them.

What about states’ rights, you say? If you talk to a confederate flag aficionado, they will tell you that the US Civil War was about states’ rights. When they say that, ask them “but the rights of which states to do what specifically?” We all know that the “right” in question was the “right” to deny human rights to African-Americans and continue treating them as property. It is the reason why the civil rights community always hears “racism” when people talk of states’ rights.

The same logic applies here. Why should we respect the rights of states, or rather state and local Republican officeholders, to disenfranchise and discount voters along race and class lines, in order to manipulate election results? If they want to craft separate rules for state and local elections, have separate ballots and election days and what have you, then go ahead and do so. Afterwards they can explain to everyone why the fiscally conservative party needed to spend all that extra cash for special elections unencumbered by pesky federal rules.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Gossom and do not reflect Results Radio, Townsquare Media, its sponsors or subsidiaries.

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