Perhaps the most fundamental principle of American democracy is the right of the people to be able to choose their own leaders, to be able to vote. For African Americans, in particular, it is a right that was not automatically conferred in the Constitution of the United States. It was finally granted in 1870 by the 15th Amendment, which states, "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." But even then African Americans had to cope with myriad devious measures to keep the ballot from blacks. These included poll taxes, literacy tests and sundry other nefarious tactics during the Jim Crow era. It was not until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which President Lyndon Johnson signed into law, that African Americans truly gained the franchise.
But now Gov. Rick Scott and his cronies both here in Florida and in other parts of the country, such as Texas and Arizona, have opened a frontal assault on what should be the now inalienable right to vote. In some places, Republican-controlled legislatures, backed by GOP governors, have made into law conditions that make the exercise of the right to vote very onerous, at the very least, such as requiring photographic identification, and imposing unnecessary and impossible conditions on organizations which register Americans to vote.
While proponents of such draconian anti-democratic measures argue, no doubt tongue-in-cheek, that the intent is to prevent fraud at the polls, the number of cases of fraudulent voting that they can point to is so miniscule as to make their argument laughable.
Except that this is no laughing matter.
Take Gov. Scott’s edict requiring a “purge” of Florida’s voter rolls on grounds that there is need to get rid of the names of non-citizens. That order has not been backed up with statistics showing that “non-citizens” have been clogging the voting lists and influencing the outcome of elections. Rather, this is just another step to deny some Americans the right to vote, especially African Americans and other minorities.
The Department of Justice ordered Gov. Scott to halt his brazen attempt to deprive citizens of their right to vote. He had until this Wednesday to say if he would comply. His comments earlier in the week suggested he might not. The department is concerned that the governor is violating a law requiring that voter rolls could be changed only up to 90 days before an election – a deadline that has already passed for voting scheduled for August.
But it is more than the legality of Gov. Scott’s action that is in question here. It is the very idea that in 21st century America there can still be this assault on citizens’ most fundamental right. A recall drive may not work in today’s political environment but it will send a powerful message to the governor.