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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8 Responses to “The RNC’s statement on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act is as laughable as it is insulting”

  1. Colin says:

    Just read an article about the Black Lives matter protesters pushing Bernie Sanders away from the podium and ranting on. I agree with their anger but I do not understand why they would do this to the one candidate out of all who are running who would fight for a fair shake not just with the voting rights of all people but on so many other issues. Humans have an infinite capacity for shooting itself in the foot it seems. So Senator Sanders waited about 20 minutes and left. His message once again given short shrift. Only this time it was not the reporters turning off their cameras, it was the people understandably angry though they may be , who once again disrupted the man whose policies would help the most. I worry about the pattern I see here.

  2. Indigo says:

    We’re in the middle of that flouting of the law process here in Florida. Governor Scott ignores due process on a regular basis and the media either do not report it or report is in the context of government privilege without blinking. About once every six months, there’ll be an editorial giving lip-service to open government, but there’s no follow through. Meanwhile, Scott and his cronies continue to dismantle what was once a thoroughly democratic, open state government. Admittedly, it was the Jebster that started to dismantle it, but Scott has refined the system to the point where it’s not clear whether there’s a foundation left to build on once he’s done looting (his second term has two more years to run) and gone back to Texas.

  3. Hue-Man says:

    Maybe it’s time for a new Constitution?

    “Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a section that constitutionally guarantees all Canadian citizens the democratic right to vote in a general federal or provincial election and the right to be eligible for membership in the House of Commons or of a provincial
    legislative assembly.”

    The RNC statement is too disgusting for any comment.

  4. BeccaM says:

    There’s plenty of disagreement as to when the lawless period started. Some point to Reagan getting away with Iran-Contra and his treason with the Iranian revolutionary government. Others to Nixon. Still others take it as far back as is desired, up to and including the position that America has never been a nation whose leaders respect the law.

    Still, I’m going to do that old lady thing and suggest that the overt flouting of laws really only took off since the Reagan era, when partisan leaders began to realize they could get away with even blatant violations, simply by declaring what they were doing wasn’t what the law meant to prohibit. And it began accelerating when the Republicans realized Dubya wasn’t going to get into even the wee bit of trouble of Congressional hearings over lying the country into war and committing an endless list of obvious war crimes.

    To take an example: Back in the day, the hyper-conservatives tried to craft anti-abortion bills in such a way as to possibly pass a constitutional check by the courts. Now? They just go ahead and pass stuff that is manifestly in violation and dare the courts to overturn them. It’s the same deal now with voting laws. Making people pay money for the privilege of voting — even if that money takes the form of having to pay for special documentation — is equivalent to a poll tax and is supposed to be illegal. But the GOPers pass those laws anyway.

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  6. Indigo says:

    The problem is not the legal structure, it’s the enforcement of the legal structure. In the face of these police riots that are sweeping the nation, it’s become a pattern for the police to invent laws as they go about their day. That has to stop but at this point in our social unraveling, nobody seems to know how to rein them in.

  7. rogerclegg says:

    No new legislation is needed. The Supreme Court struck down only one provision in the
    Voting Rights Act — which was indeed unconstitutional — and there are plenty of
    other voting-rights laws available to ensure that the right to vote is not
    violated. What’s more, the bill that has been drafted is bad legislation. For example, it contains much that has nothing to do with the Supreme Court’s decision; and it itself violates the Constitution by
    prohibiting practices that are not actually racially discriminatory but only
    have racially disproportionate effects. And it would treat half the country like it was 1965 Mississippi, requiring states like California and New York to get federal permission before making any change, no matter how trivial, to voting practices and procedures.

  8. Bill_Perdue says:

    The central question here is the elimination of racism and institutionalized racism as core elements of US society.

    The denial of voting rights is part of the racist assault on people of color, as are discrimination, the remnants of Jim Crow with mass incarceration, the ongoing epidemic of murders by cops, inadequate health care, poverty, homelessness, a deluge of street drugs that cops and ICE cannot, or more likely, will not, address and poor educational opportunities, which, 62 years after Brown v. Board of Education have only improved marginally.

    The racist challenges faced by people of color in this country haven’t changed much in well over 100 years although the forms and methods of oppression have mutated. People of color still face a double dose of exploitation and super exploitation that takes the form of lower wages. The union movement ameliorated some of that, particularly in the auto industry but that ended when Obama busted the UAW, driving down wages and elimination union jobs.

    As others have proven, this is not a democracy. It won’t be a democracy until political democracy and economic democracy and combined to produce workers control of the economy organized by a workers state. Until then, voting rights, which are very important, will remain a partisan issue that will not lead to change in the form of ending racism.

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