Marchers holding signs demanding the right to vote at the March on Washington

In 2021 leg­isla­tive ses­sions there have been 425 bills pro­posed in forty-nine states designed to, in some mea­sure, sup­press vot­ing. To be fair, in some of these states new laws were also enact­ed that allowed some expan­sion of vot­ing rights, such as restor­ing such rights to con­vict­ed per­sons and requir­ing more acces­si­bil­i­ty to impaired voters.

In Kentucky, a good many of the expand­ed vot­ing accom­mo­da­tions that were put in place for the 2020 gen­er­al elec­tion due to the COVID pan­dem­ic were allowed to remain for future elec­tions — due in large part to the coöper­a­tive efforts of the Republican Secretary of State Adams and Democratic Governor Beshear. And fol­low­ing that elec­tion, sev­er­al thou­sand vot­ers’ names were purged from the vot­ing lists, most­ly due to death.

It’s pos­si­ble that a great many peo­ple had thought that the Jim Crow laws were a thing of the past. But it would appear that they are being rein­vig­o­rat­ed in var­i­ous forms and under dif­fer­ent names, most often in the guise of vot­er secu­ri­ty, cit­ing unproven and dis­put­ed exam­ples of vot­er fraud although vir­tu­al­ly every study of the 2020 elec­tions showed that they were the most secure in his­to­ry and with absolute­ly insignif­i­cant fraud.

Jim Crow laws began show­ing up in state and local juris­dic­tions short­ly after the con­clu­sion of the Civil War and con­tin­ued with added vehe­mence until 1964, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Even then, it was anoth­er four years before added pro­vi­sions secured gen­er­al civ­il lib­er­ties for all Americans.

The Voting Rights Act became law in 1965 but it was set to expire in ten years and reau­tho­rized in 1975.
It seemed that the Act was being con­tin­u­al­ly re-autho­rized as it was in 1992 for fif­teen years and again in 2006 for 25 years — which begs the ques­tion of why this should be nec­es­sary. Why not just pass the law and make it per­ma­nent until and unless it is – or por­tions of it – are deter­mined to be unconstitutional?

In 2019, a bipar­ti­san bill (spon­sored by one Democrat and one Republican) was intro­duced to update the Voting Rights Act to apply specif­i­cal­ly to thir­teen states which had a his­to­ry of vot­er sup­pres­sion. On December 6, 2019, the House of Representatives vot­ed 228–187 in favor of the bill with only one Republican vot­ing in favor. President Trump threat­ened to veto the bill if it was approved by the Senate.

Two acts are cur­rent­ly before Congress to improve vot­er access: the Freedom to Vote Act in the Senate and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which has passed the House and would com­ple­ment the Senate act. And expan­sion and con­sol­i­da­tion of vot­ing rights are being held up in the Senate large­ly because of eso­teric rules that pre­vent a sim­ple major­i­ty of that body to pass legislation.

Now the coun­try is under­go­ing mas­sive redis­trict­ing based on the 2020 cen­sus, and this pro­vides anoth­er oppor­tu­ni­ty for the unscrupu­lous to manip­u­late the way in which elec­tions are car­ried out. One has only to look at the present Kentucky leg­isla­tive dis­tricts to under­stand that ger­ry­man­der­ing is alive and well and will most like­ly show up again when the new map is drawn.

It is long past time in this coun­try for Congress to pass true bipar­ti­san laws which stip­u­late some sim­ple and invi­o­lable rules gov­ern­ing all elec­tions, rules which can­not be abro­gat­ed by the machi­na­tions of local and state offi­cials for polit­i­cal rea­sons. There is no rea­son why rules can­not be estab­lished that will apply equal­ly and impar­tial­ly across the coun­try, whether it be in New York or Alabama or Arizona — rules that will guar­an­tee that every qual­i­fied cit­i­zen over the age of eigh­teen has rea­son­able, effi­cient access to the vot­ing booth.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.