Today, the Senate is supposed to consider the Freedom to Vote Act, a reimagined version of 1965’s Voting Rights Act (VRA). It doesn’t stand a chance. Here’s a little history.

Until 1870, the vote belonged exclusively to White men.

In that year, Southern Democrats, who were avowed racists and segregationists, did all they could to prevent the Fifteenth Amendment (“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”) from being instituted, dedicated themselves to keeping Blacks from voting.

It wasn’t until the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920 that women got the vote, chipping away the dominance of White men in the electoral process.

As late as the 1960s, polling-place shenanigans like literacy tests and poll taxes, both demonstrably unfair, ensured that only about five percent of eligible blacks in the South were registered to vote.

Race riots spilled a lot of blood in the industrialized Midwest where Southern Blacks had migrated for better working conditions and better pay, and suddenly a Southern problem was a national problem, and LBJ was able to get the VRA passed, neutering Southern Democrats, and forcing states like Mississippi and Alabama to let Blacks vote. In those days of relative comity, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed in overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion. Only the segregationist Dixiecrats stood against the expansion of voting rights.

But by the 1980s, the shifting sands of party allegiance that began in the late 1930s with the election of Franklin Roosevelt, had been cemented in the anti-war environment of the 1960s. Democrats realigned as the liberal party whose coalition included Blacks, working class Whites, and unions.

Republicans were then defined as the conservative party of White business elites, and comity was at an end by 1986 when Republicans relearned the lesson that letting everyone vote was a recipe for their defeat at every level, so they began to push back and worked to once again restrict voting rights. This movement began, unsurprisingly, with the even-then unfounded claim of voter fraud.

In 2013, the now-conservative-majority Supreme Court gutted the VRA by no longer requiring states with a history of discrimination to get “pre-clearance” before enacting new voting rules. This dawning new day meant that Southern states, along with Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri, and others, could pass election laws without the Justice Department looking over their shoulders.

Today, with this latest spate of Republican legislatures enacting laws guaranteed to tilt the playing field in their direction by restricting easy access to the ballot, and much, much more importantly, taking the power to call election winners and losers away from trained, nonpartisan local election officials, and bestowing it upon their highly-partisan selves, once again under the popular ruse of voter fraud which by now we all know remains nonexistent.

This year began with two bills intended to restore voting rights and federal oversight: The For the People Act, would have rinsed “dark money” out of the process, restricted partisan gerrymandering, and cut voter suppression legislation at the state level. It passed the House in March, but died in the Senate, a victim of the filibuster, which when invoked, requires 60 votes for simple legislation to pass.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, would restore oversight of the historically discriminatory states. It has also passed the House, but won’t survive an inevitable Republican filibuster, and we will find ourselves back in 1860, or 1960, for that matter.

Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) who opposes changing the filibuster rules, has proposed a compromise called the Freedom to Vote Act. He says he can get the required ten Republican votes to overcome the assured filibuster. Everyone who believes that, stand on your head.

Under these new state laws—aided by the once-a-decade redrawing of Congressional districts following the decennial Census—it should be impossible for Republicans to lose elections. All they’ll have to do is claim fraud or malfeasance (facts need not apply), and return the decision to the legislature that now has the power to overturn the will of the people, and presto, democracy is cooked.

We will then effectively be not just a one-party country, but one that is subject to minority rule, which will be set in stone until the 2030 Census. We’ll no longer be able to lead the world as a democratic republic, for we’ll no longer be the shining light. That city on the hill will go dark under the forces of minority, one-party rule.

We are about to throw away 60 years of progress in favor of returning to a model that looks all too much like the unreconstructed South from the 1870s to the 1960s.

Welcome South, Brother.

©2021 Jon Sinton

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