The RNC’s statement on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act is as laughable as it is insulting

American democracy turned 50 years old today. Sure, the country was founded long before August 6, 1965, when the Voting Rights Act was signed into law. However, up until that point it was not only legal but standard to deny adult citizens the right to vote on arbitrary, demographic-based grounds.

Of course, you could make a pretty convincing case that America still isn’t a democracy, and you could make another convincing case that the Voting Rights Act didn’t bring America to its full democratic promise because, after all, we still don’t have an affirmative right to vote codified in our Constitution.

But what is absolutely, unarguably true at this point is that since the passage of the Voting Rights Act, conservative activists, lawyers and lawmakers have done everything they can in order to weaken the law, fighting the act in court and passing a laundry list of voting restrictions that, while being colorblind on their face, are clearly designed to make it more difficult for low-income and minority voters to cast ballots.

Which is why it was particularly rich for the Republican National Committee to release a statement today recognizing the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act. Their statement reads:

We owe a great deal to those who stood up to discrimination, threats of violence and even death to push for the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Every citizen should have the chance to vote in our elections while we also work to ensure the integrity of the voting process by preventing things such as mistakes, fraud and confusion.

With national initiatives, including #CommittedToCommunity: Engage, Empower, Uplift, the RNC is engaging with voters in communities that had been overlooked in the past. Across the country, we’re working to identify and register new voters, especially young and minority voters, to bring more people into the political process.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 enjoyed broad Republican support, but protecting citizens’ right to vote in free and fair elections is not merely a Republican priority. It is an American priority. Today, as we enjoy more access to the polls – through early, absentee and weekend voting – than in past decades, we celebrate the sacrifice, accomplishments, and memory of those who made it possible.

“Every citizen should have the chance to vote in our elections.” Ha. Ha. This is from the same Republican Party pulling out every legislative and judicial trick in the book to make sure that some citizens have less of a chance to vote than others. That they couldn’t make it through a sentence applauding the right to vote without reminding us that voter fraud is a big scary menace tells us all we need to know about how concerned they are about protecting the right to vote.

Lyndon Johnson hands the pen used to sign the Voting Rights Act to Martin Luther King, Jr., via Wikimedia Commons

Lyndon Johnson hands the pen used to sign the Voting Rights Act to Martin Luther King, Jr., via Wikimedia Commons

Conspicuously left out of the statement lauding the expansions of early, absentee and weekend voting are the Republican Party’s concerted efforts to roll back those same ballot access expansions. It’s beyond insulting for them to try and claim credit for voting rights expansions that they are directly working to undo.

In 2006, the Voting Rights Act was renewed with votes of 390-33 in the House and 98-0 in the Senate. Following the Supreme Court’s invalidation of its preclearance provision, a law that would restore and expand its voter protections can’t even get a hearing in the Republican-controlled Congress.

Voting rights shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but today it is, with Republicans uniformly opposed to the idea that it should be easy for every eligible citizen to participate in the electoral process.

For the RNC to pretend otherwise is laughable on the one hand, and insulting on the other.

UPDATE: Can’t believe I didn’t include this in the original. The Texas Republican Party actually called for the complete repeal of the Voting Rights Act last year.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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