20 June, 2014
50 Years and Counting
“This week, as we commemorate the three young men who lost their lives at the start of Freedom Summer 50 years ago, it’s wise to remember not only the injustice of their deaths but also the race-based calculus that determined whether or not the national media would report on violence in Mississippi. We should also heed Rita Schwerner’s call to remember not only her husband but also those who had gone before—and who would come after—and the wider context of the fight for freedom in Mississippi for which they gave their lives.”
Despite their murders and the sacrifices of so many others, 90 restrictive voting bills have been introduced in 33 states. Nine have become law and others are moving quickly through Republican controlled statehouses. Not only are nearly two thirds of the states refusing to remember this atrocity, they are actively working to dishonor these fallen heroes.
Election laws and regulations have long been susceptible to politicization, but for decades there were no major legislative movements to restrict voting. The last major historical legislative push to cut back on voting rights was after Reconstruction. The 2010 election, however, marked a major shift as Republicans gained control of many state governments. “From early 2011 until the 2012 election, state lawmakers across the country introduced at least 180 restrictive voting bills in 41 states. By the 2012 election, 19 states passed 27 restrictive voting measures, many of which were overturned or weakened by courts, citizen-led initiatives, and the Department of Justice before the election. States continued to pass voting restrictions in 2013 and 2014.While this discriminatory legislation embodies the spirit of Jim Crow, the legislative efforts are not restricted to the former Confederacy as the map below show.
Thus in advance of the crucial 2014 midterm election, numerous new voting restrictions have been put in place. Some laws are in place for the first time in 2014. Major lawsuits still could affect this year’s elections. Unless these restrictions are blocked, voters in nearly half the country could find it harder to cast a ballot in the 2014 midterm election than they did in 2010. The restrictive measures range from photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to voter registration restrictions. “Partisanship and race were key factors in this movement. Most restrictions passed through GOP-controlled legislatures and in states with increases in minority turnout.”
In 15 states, 2014 will be the first major federal election with these new restrictions in place. The courts will play a crucial role in 2014, with ongoing suits challenging laws in seven states. Voting advocates have filed suits in both federal and state courts challenging new restrictions, and those suits are ongoing in seven states — Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin. There is also an ongoing case in Iowa over administrative action that could restrict voting. More court challenges are possible and truly needed as the election draws nearer. With control of the Senate at issue, these partisan and prejudice-driven measures could damage the effective of national governance for years to come. Even if the national coup is derailed or delayed, more than half the states are striving to supplant the spirit of the Fifteenth Amendment through thinly-veiled prejudiced, partisan voting laws and administrative regulations.
Racial bigotry is a significant factor in these restrictive efforts. 7 out of 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008 have new restrictions in place. 9 of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010 passed laws making it harder to vote. “And nearly two-thirds of states — or 9 out of 15 — previously covered in whole or in part by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act because of a history of race discrimination in voting have new restrictions since the 2010 election.”
Social science studies at the University of Massachusetts - Boston and the University of California show that,  “states with higher minority turnout were more likely to pass restrictive voting laws” and  “legislative support for voter ID laws was motivated by racial bias.”
The broken bodies of the Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were found buried deep in an earthen dam, 44 days after their disappearance. These young men died because they believed their freedom was tied up in the freedom of all Americans. They died trying to get the nation to keep its promise to all of its citizens. They died because they knew the truth of Theodore Roosevelts’ assertion: “This country will not be a great place for any of us to live in until we make it a good place for all of us to live in.” So as we remember them, let us also remember those who came before and those who followed in the war for America as it might and ought to be in Mississippi and throughout the land.
Let us now summon renewed devotion to the cause for which they lived, struggled, and ultimately died. Let us resolve to finish the noble work remaining before us and ensure that Jim Crow will neither survive in his ancestral region, nor spread throughout the land we love.