Republicans are today’s Dixiecrats
Of the many crises that face the country, perhaps the most important is the coordinated Republican attack on voting rights. Since the beginning of the year, new laws have been enacted in 19 states that could disenfranchise minority voters by making it harder to vote. Once-rock-solid red states won by President Biden are leading the way.
In Arizona, a new statute threatens election officials with felony prosecution if ballots are mailed to voters who did not request them, while in Georgia it is a misdemeanor to distribute food and water to those waiting in line. The Georgia law also prohibits unsolicited mailing of absentee ballot applications and requires voters to submit identification to have their requests approved. Both states give the legislature the power to certify results, removing the secretary of state from carrying out this traditional formality.
In Arizona, Democrat Katie Hobbs certified Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election, while in Georgia Republican Brad Raffensperger formalized Biden’s win despite Donald Trump’s plea to “find 11,780 votes,” one more than Biden’s winning margin.
In 15 other states, 35 bills have passed at least one chamber, making it easier for Republicans to interfere. For example, in Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas, Republicans want “audits” of the 2020 ballots. Pennsylvania Senate Republicans are demanding 2020 voters’ driver license information, partial Social Security numbers, changes in voter registration and information about whether ballots were cast by mail or in person. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, calls the ploy “a sham.”
The Freedom to Vote Act guarantees a national “right to vote” in federal elections. It expands voter registration; sets a minimum number of days and hours for early voting; reduces in-person wait times to no more than 30 minutes; permits postage-free absentee ballots that do not require either witnesses or notarization and will be counted seven days after the election if postmarked by Election Day.
Voters whose signatures are rejected must be notified and allowed to correct the issue. Poll-watchers are restricted in their proximity to those casting ballots, and polling places will be required on college campuses. The bill would curtail partisan gerrymandering and ban any prohibitions on the distribution of food and water to those waiting to vote.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), a key player in the voting rights drama, had this legislation written to his specifications, and all 50 Senate Democrats have voiced their support. Manchin has embarked on a quixotic quest to find 10 Republicans to back it.
But finding enough Republicans to overcome a Senate filibuster is an exercise in futility. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a frequent Manchin partner in bipartisanship, has voiced her opposition, saying the law has “fundamental problems of federalizing state elections.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has pronounced the bill all-but-dead: “We will not be supporting it.” Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) opposition is even more succinct: “Nope.”
Once more, obdurate GOP opposition will kill meaningful legislation backed by Manchin, who nevertheless stubbornly clings to his beloved filibuster.
Today’s Trump-led Republicans have abandoned the party’s historic roots. After the Civil War, Republicans supported federal guarantees to ensure the right of African Americans to cast their ballots. When federal troops left the defeated Confederacy in 1877, Democrats purged Blacks from the voting rolls and voted them out of Congress.
In 1888, Republicans accused President Grover Cleveland and his Democratic congressional majorities of owing “their existence to the suppression of the ballot by a criminal nullification of the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Benjamin Harrison, who beat Cleveland that year, asked in his inaugural address: “How shall those who practice election frauds recover that respect for the sanctity of the ballot which is the first condition and obligation of good citizenship? The man who has come to regard the ballot box as a juggler’s hat has renounced his allegiance.”
Harrison told Congress that denial of the franchise “does not expend itself upon those whose votes are suppressed. Every constituency in the Union is wronged.” He later accused those opposed to federal election involvement of racism, saying those “animosities ought not to be confessed without shame and cannot be given any weight in the discussion without dishonor.”
Donald Trump’s 2020 loss magnified many Republicans’ fear of a future in which whites will soon be a racial minority. A recent poll found 84 percent of Trump voters worry that “discrimination against whites will increase significantly in the next few years.” Trump’s obsession with his 2020 defeat, and his refusal to accept it, has given way to a Republican crusade to “reform” election laws that may result in disenfranchising enough minority voters to ensure Republican victories.
In a July speech, President Biden called these changes a “21st century Jim Crow assault.” In the same address, Biden posed the same question to Republicans that famously dethroned anti-communist crusader Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.) back in the 1950s: “Have you no shame?”
The answer is clear: no. Republicans have shamelessly concluded that winning doesn’t necessarily mean garnering the most votes. Instead, it’s about rigging the system. They are today’s new Dixiecrats. History’s discredited Dixiecrats would be proud.
John Kenneth White is a professor of politics at the Catholic University of America. His latest book is “What Happened to the Republican Party?”
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.