Monday morning I woke up — not with Georgia — but with Selma on my mind. Selma bears witness to the bloody and murderous struggle to end discrimination in voting on the basis of race. The demonstrations there led directly to President Lyndon Baines Johnson signing the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The 1965 Voting Rights Act was historic, designed to redress the unique history of discrimination against African Americans. But it was limited. It did not give each and every American citizen the explicit, constitutionally guaranteed federal right to vote. The 1965 Voting Rights Act has been effective and efficient. Sections 4 and 5 were its heart and soul because they provided for a prior review that prevented racial discrimination in voting. In the recent Shelby decision, a conservative majority of the Supreme Court cut the heart (Section 4) out of the law and left its soul (Section 5) as exposed as a cadaver on a funeral director’s table. Shelby said you can keep the car but you can’t have the keys. The car looks great, but it’s not going anywhere. Now we must all join together in an effort to fix the damage done by Shelby, and revive the heart of the Voting Rights Act.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn said Monday that a special election will be held to fill the congressional seat vacated by former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., who stepped down last week amid an ethics probe and ongoing health problems. Quinn said a primary election would be held on February 26, which coincides with an already-scheduled local primary election, and proposed setting April 9 as the date for the general election to coincide with another previously-scheduled vote.
Election officials plan to ask a judge to waive the standard time frame and allow a special election to replace Jesse Jackson Jr. to occur at the same time as already-planned suburban elections. Cook County Clerk David Orr said he and his counterparts in Chicago, and Will and Kankakee counties — the four areas included in the 2nd Congressional District — want the special election held April 9, along with a primary on Feb. 26. The suburban areas all have elections already scheduled for those dates.
Now that Jesse Jackson Jr. has resigned his seat in Congress, Gov. Pat Quinn must set the date for an election to fill the seat. Cook County Clerk David Orr has a plan — and hopes the courts will go along. It would require a court order condensing the schedule so that the primary and general elections to replace Jackson would fit the existing suburban Cook County, Will and Kankakee County election schedules. All have primary elections Feb. 26 and general elections April 9. However, as it stands, there is a March 15 deadline to hold a special election. Orr said sticking to the existing deadline would mean staging extra elections — and incurring extra costs.
County boards of election must stop early in-person voting as of 6 p.m. Friday, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has advised, prompting Democrats to cry foul. The Rev. Jesse Jackson used a rally Wednesday at the University of Toledo to urge students and others to “occupy” the downtown voter-registration center “all day and night” this weekend. This occurs as a number of counties are reporting higher-than-usual absentee mail-in and early in-person voting for an off-year election, perhaps driven by interest in high-profile ballot issues such as Issue 2, which affects collective bargaining.
The early voting issue was created by a voter referendum effort on a controversial overhaul of state election law, House Bill 194, that had a spillover effect on separate legislation, House Bill 224, containing some similar language. The referendum effort has placed House Bill 194 on hold indefinitely, but the latter law passed unanimously and took effect last week.
States’ rights is code for discrimination. A century and a half ago, some states asserted the right to leave the union. We fought the nation’s bloodiest conflict, then admitted the traitors back into the country on generous terms. Though our Confederate brothers and sisters died defending the enslavement of African-Americans, we did this in the name of peace and forgiveness.
Fast forward, to the 1960’s, all Americans were free from legalized slavery — but blacks were still routinely denied the ballot. Some states blocked access to the ballot with the same ferocity, and on the same grounds, that they stood in schoolhouse doors with ax handles — states’ rights. Denial of the ballot was based on the right of states to control all election procedures.
By eradicating widespread disenfranchisement in Dixie and in urban areas outside the Old South, the Voting Rights Act – enacted Aug. 6, 1965 – proved one of the most powerful pieces of federal legislation. It ranks with the 14th Amendment and the Commerce Clause in changing the lives of Americans everywhere — for the better.
It ushered in what we call “King Democracy” as in Martin Luther King Jr., on the way to forging a more perfect union and putting “Jeffersonian Democracy,” where democracy coexisted with slavery and then legal segregation, behind us.
Florida Secretary of State Kurt Browning has asked a federal court to review the state’s new election law, sidestepping the Obama administration’s examination of the most controversial pieces of the law that was a major priority for the GOP-led Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.
Critics of the new law have been lobbying the U.S. Justice Department to invalidate the new law, saying it disenfranchises voters, particularly women and minorities. The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging part of the law in court and Rev. Jesse Jackson held rallies in Florida this past week in protest of the bill.
Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. and leaders in Florida have embarked on a two-day campaign to build awareness among African-American voters and local lawmakers in the state about the impact that the proposed new voting regulations would have on minorities and low-income people.
“The irony is we fight wars for democracy abroad and declare war on democracy at home,” Jackson said during a news conference before a rally at the New Covenant Baptist Church of Orlando Monday night. “All we really want is an even playing field.”
Rev. Randolph Bracy, whose church hosted the Monday night rally, said that Jackson will be a key catalyst in getting people to think about this issue and recognize what’s at risk. The rally sought to “wake up the community” and was the first of what Bracy hopes will be several more voter awareness events and activities. Similar rallies took place Monday morning in Eatonville and in Tampa Tuesday afternoon.