Voters stand in line in California. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes.)
Despite the clear fail of voter suppression efforts and the strong resolve of voters last year, right-wing forces are still determined to make voting harder. And despite the clear need for modernizing voter registration, conservative election officials are zeroing in on the registration process as a place to achieve their goals, by requiring proof of citizenship and adding unnecessary criteria for who can be registered and when.
At a recent Heritage Foundation panel, some of the biggest opponents of voting rights lined up to decry modernizing voter registration, calling it a “threat.” The moderator, the voter fraud wolf-crier Hans von Spakovsky, said solutions like universal voter registration and Election Day registration invite fraud and allow “non-citizens” to vote. There remains no evidence of ineligible voters throwing an election, or people from another country defrauding an outcome, or for that matter of meaningful incidents of any of the fraud these folks continue to insist exists. Still, at the panel Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach proclaimed “aliens” are stealing our votes and invading our voter rolls.
The practice of restricting voter registration and making Americans prove their citizenship to vote has a long history in America, which sadly bears some review. White, wealthy elites have tried to keep the franchise from people of color, the poor and women since the start of this nation, often using registration as a barrier. It was during the civil rights movement, though, that these forces showed the nation that they were willing to try to beat the living black off people to stop them from registering.
Reading Gary May’s forthcoming Bending Toward Justice, I learned about the “Freedom Day” effort launched on October 7, 1963, by civil rights hero Jim Forman in Selma, Ala. Forman and his fellow SNCC soldiers wanted to capitalize on the momentum surge from the March on Washington, and the many civil and voting rights demonstrations before it. He teamed with comedian Dick Gregory, James Baldwin, Amelia Boynton and a host of civil rights soldiers to march to Selma’s courthouse and register African-Americans to vote.