Thirty-three states have introduced bills to restrict voting in the wake of historic voter turnout in 2020. (image courtesy The Brennan Center)

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter

There are many images famous and infamous that have become synonymous with the 20th century Black American struggle for civil rights and equity. One such image both iconic and heinous is from Miami, Florida in 1940, a Black man hanged in effigy from a light post with a sign that reads “this nigg*r voted.” 

The cogent message courtesy of the Ku Klux Klan is unequivocal: if you are Black don’t vote, or else.

More than 80 years later that same fear of the Black franchise is emanating from GOP controlled state houses across the country. But, instead of blatant White terror tactics,  many argue legislators are wielding policies rooted in White nationalism to suppress the vote of Black people and other people of color.

Arizona is one of dozens of states that are trying to craft legislation or defend already established laws aimed nakedly at voter suppression. Lawyers for Arizona’s GOP were in the Supreme Court earlier this month defending the state’s restrictions. Democrats have sued arguing the two measures (one banning ballot collection, the other that tosses ballots cast in the wrong precinct), discriminate against people of color and violate the Voting Rights Act.

When Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a Trump appointee, asked GOP attorney Michael Carvin about the legal standing of the restrictive measures, Carvin said the quiet part out loud.

“Because it puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats,” he said. “Politics is a zero-sum game.” Attorneys defending voter suppression policies in other states may not be as audacious as Carvin, but Republican lawmakers seem determined to make it harder to vote especially for those constituencies less likely to cast ballots for GOP candidates.

According to the Brennan Center For Justice, a nonpartisan law and policy institute, in response to historic voter turnout during the 2020 general election that resulted in the ouster of Donald Trump from the White House, the Senate moving to Democratic control and Democrats remaining the majority in the House, Republicans launched, “a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities,” according to the Brennan Center, which recently published its Voting Laws Roundup. And then 33 states launched into action introducing, prefiling, or carrying more than 165 restrictive voting bills in 2021. In February 2020, only 35 such bills were crafted in 15 states. The voter suppression measures fall into four categories: restrictions on mail voting; stricter voter I.D.; slashing voter registration opportunities and more aggressive voter purge practices.

According to the Brennan Center report Arizona leads the nation in proposed voter suppression legislation in 2021, with 19 restrictive bills. Next is Pennsylvania with 14 restrictive measures, then Georgia with 11 and New Hampshire with 10.

Almost half of the voter suppression measures across the nation attempt to limit mail voting by reducing those who can vote by mail, making it more difficult to obtain mail ballots and impose obstacles to completing and casting mail ballots.

Eighteen states have drafted 40 bills to impose new or stricter voter ID requirements for in-person or mail voting.

In 10 states that did not require voters to present photo ID’s, legislators have crafted measures to implement an ID requirement.

Arizona, Indiana, Mississippi and New York have all drafted bills that would require voters to produce proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. Ten measures are aimed at curtailing election day registration. Legislators in  Alaska and Georgia are attempting to eliminate automatic voter registration. Arizona wants to prohibit automatic voter registration and voters in that state do not currently have that option. And 12 states have introduced 21 different bills that would make voter roll purges more expansive.

May 17, 1957, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., delivered his “Give Us the Ballot” speech at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom.

“Give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights…Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of good will…Give us the ballot and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy,” said Dr. King.

Almost 65 years later Black people and other people of color seem to still be making the case for America to “Give us the ballot,” as GOP lawmakers seem more determined to take it away.