I recently read an important and incredibly well-researched book by Dr. Carol Anderson, One Person, No Vote. In it, Anderson records the history of disenfranchisement of people of color in the United States as well as the ongoing attempts to suppress their voting rights. The first chapter, which contains the history of disenfranchisement, is worth the read in and of itself. While many folks know much of this history, what Anderson does is bring alive the life and death struggle African Americans were engaged in to win what should have been theirs at birth: the right to vote. I strongly recommend this book.
While the first chapter of Anerson’s book is incredibly moving, the rest of the book outlines the continued blatant attempts to disenfranchise people of color. Although gerrymandering – which Anderson states that the point of which is “to insulate the legislative majority from the will of the voters” – is practiced by both political parties, only Republicans practice intentional racial gerrymandering. (p. 107)
The other two primary ways disenfranchisement occurs at present is through voter purges and voter ID laws. When the Supreme Court in 2013 gutted the Voting Rights Act, specifically by eliminating the clearance portion of the act which meant that states that had a history of voter suppression laws had to get clearance on any new voting legislation from the Department of Justice. The clearance portion of the VRA was put in place to protect the rights of voting Americans.
The thing is, the clearance provision worked. How do we know that? As soon as the Supreme Court acted, Republican state legislatures began pushing through all kinds of disenfranchisement laws, making voting more difficult, challenging, and even confusing. They continue to do so today.
Now, I want to be absolutely clear. In no way am I endorsing the Democratic Party. I can’t, since we are a 501 c3, and as a person of faith, I fervently believe in the separation of church and state and that it is designed to protect both the church and the state from becoming fused together. Yet, to say that both political parties are engaged in suppressing peoples’ right to vote – particularly people of color – would simply be a lie. Republicans have adopted the argument that they are interested in making sure elections are free from fraud, but our elections have largely been free from fraud, thus making their concerns baseless.
For far too many Republican candidates, the very act of voting is cheating because they have had a very difficult time winning national elections through the popular vote. Legendary conservative activist Paul Weyrich stated years ago that the problem for Republicans is that far too many people vote and when more people vote conservatives lose. That seems a stunning and very unfortunate ideological basis for political engagement. It is not surprising that Weyrich is responsible for founding ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which brings together conservative lawmakers with heads of corporations and other activists. ALEC is one of the primary ways voter suppression laws have been shared state to state.
Despite all of this, I believe there seems to be a clear biblical basis for a more inclusive political engagement. The Bible in no way endorses a democratic form of government, or any form of government for that matter. Likewise, the Bible also does not endorse a specific form of economy, but we can glean some wisdom from the stories, especially when it comes to how we should protect the rights of those on the margins of society.
One such story is in Exodus 18. Moses is spending all day each day, hearing and judging between the disputes between Israelites. Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro advises him to organize a better system that would allow Moses to rest and would also create more access to fair and wise judgment by setting up judges for smaller groups of people to come to in order to settle their disputes and hear their problems. No, this does not speak to voter ID laws or voter purges, but it does speak to the importance of creating access for all people in society to those charged with making decisions that impact the daily lives of those being ruled.
Creating access to governing rulers for as many people as possible ought to be the apex of importance when it comes to deciding the rights of voting. Right now, there is an entire political party that does not hold this as central to their beliefs and it is weakening our democracy. This only means that it is all the more important that we vote Tuesday and make our voices heard. Democracy is literally at stake.