Friday, June 16, 2017

Rev. William Barber: ''Voter Suppression Hacked Our Democracy''

Although alleged Kremlin connections may ultimately sink Trump's Presidency, Rev. William Barber, II, contends that homegrown voter suppression poses a greater threat to US democracy than Russian election tampering.

"Voter suppression hacked our democracy long before any Russian agents meddled in America's elections," said Barber, who has gained national interest through his vocal opposition to restrictive voting laws.

In fact, Barber recently announced that he will step down as president of the North Carolina NAACP this month to assume a new role as president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach and will co-lead the Poor People's Campaign. That campaign -- to reignite the one begun by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., almost 50 years ago -- seeks to reorder national priorities to address systemic poverty, racism and the war economy. 

Bolstering the effort are recent US Supreme Court decisions that rejected Republican redistricting plans aimed at illegal racial gerrymandering.
States With Highest Poverty

"We're looking at Putin's strongman tactics and not at our own race-based voter suppression tactics," Barber said. "But we have to demand attention. What the states with the highest voter suppression have in common is that they also have the highest rates of poverty."

Barber developed his critique after spending years building a broad-based social justice coalition and leading the Moral Mondays movement that coalesced in 2013 to combat escalating voter suppression tactics in North Carolina. 

In that state, Republican legislators passed restrictions so blatantly designed to keep black voters away from the polls, the courts eventually charged that they targeted African Americans with "almost surgical precision." 

For instance, legislators reduced early-voting opportunities after analyzing data showing poor and minority citizens were significantly more likely to cast their ballots prior to election day. They often did so to avoid missing work or as part of Sunday "Souls to the Polls" drives at black churches. 

In Greensboro, N.C. -- where student sit-ins to integrate the Woolworth's lunch counter helped catalyze the civil rights movement in the 1960s – authorities cut early-voting sites from 16 to only one. That pattern was repeated around the state where a total of 158 similar sites were eliminated. 

In the name of preventing so-called voter fraud, legislators created photo ID restrictions that disproportionately affected minorities and young people, such as those without driver's licenses. 

Also affected were elders born in rural areas where birth certificates were not issued or were lost. They included many African Americans born in segregated hospitals. Meanwhile, no such ID requirements were applied to absentee ballots -- a voting method used more often by white voters, and one more susceptible to fraud. 

Voter Suppression on Steroids

Although North Carolina's voter ID laws have been labeled the worst in the nation, dozens of other states have passed similar legislation -- particularly after the US Supreme Court's 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That law required federal "preclearance" review before certain states could change their voting laws.
As Ari Berman, author of Give Us The Ballot reported in the Nation magazine, by the time of the 2016 presidential election, there were 868 fewer polling places in states with a long history of voter discrimination, such as Arizona and Texas. 

Already this year, legislators in 31 states have introduced close to 100 bills to limit access to registration and voting, according to the Voting Laws Roundup 2017 report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU's School of Law. 

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