Original Voting Rights Sins

For those who like contemporary history that cuts right to the chase, I couldn’t recommend more highly Ari Berman’s brief but pungent piece from the current issue of The Nation, presumably drawn from the research he conducted to write his new book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights. In the magazine piece, Berman shows how the recent pandemic of voter restriction laws and the heavy damage inflicted by SCOTUS on the Voting Rights Act had their roots in the 2000 battle for the presidency (and secondarily, in John Ashcroft’s “loss to a dead man,” Mel Carnahan, that same year).

Berman reminds us of the role that Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and John Roberts played in the effort to make a large and erroneous voter purge stick in Florida that almost certainly cost Al Gore a clear victory. Efforts to expose that malfeasance spurred a loud if exceptionally vague counter-claim that whatever Republicans did to suppress the vote in Florida was undoubtedly offset by pro-Democratic “voter fraud” because, you know, those people. You had the same dynamics in Missouri where John Ashcroft, soon to be George W. Bush’s Attorney General, attributed his Senate loss to undefined voter fraud, even though the real election night scandal in Missouri was another purge that knocked many African-Americans off the voting rolls without notice.

With Aschcroft and company at DOJ and then Roberts and Samuel Alito being added to SCOTUS, the Bush 43 administration was a disaster for voting rights, and since then the fight to restrict the franchise has moved to the states:

The result has been the most significant effort to restrict voting rights since the Jim Crow era. From 2011 to 2015, 468 voting restrictions have been introduced in 49 states. Half the states in the country have passed new laws making it harder to vote. None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the 2000 election in Florida.

Read and learn.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.