Journalism in the service of society

Voter suppression in America’s “Demo-crazy”

By Uche Onyebadi

VOTING is supposed to be the most sacred item on the tabernacle of democracy. But, in the United States, Republicans have other ignoble ideas. This is how Republican Rep. John Kavanagh, a member of the Arizona House of Representatives, articulated this fundamental issue of voting in a CNN interview:  “Democrats value as many people as possible voting, and they’re willing to risk fraud. Republicans are more concerned about fraud, so we don’t mind putting security measures in that won’t let everybody vote—but everybody shouldn’t be voting.”

Everybody shouldn’t be voting? In the United States that has over the years positioned itself in the international community as the chief-priest and gatekeeper of democracy? This reminds me of the lyrics of the song, “Teacher, don’t teach me nonsense,” by Africa’s music legend, Fela Kuti. In it, the late iconoclast turned the Western concept of democracy upside down as he sang: 

Crazy demo
Demonstration of craze
Crazy demonstration

Fela’s apt description of what democracy can degenerate into could not have been more prophetic. In America, the concept of democracy which heavily rests on the fundamental principle of exercising one’s inalienable right to vote, is remarkably under threat by members of the Republican Party. Having lost the presidency and the senate in the November 2020 elections, the Republic Party has woken up like a menacing zombie in search of what to do to avoid further trouncing in subsequent elections. But, instead of dispassionately doing some soul-searching to understand what went wrong and how to positively move forward, they have gone back to their decades old tactic of installing roadblocks that will suppress voting by minority groups, especially African Americans. 

Voter suppression is not a novelty in the American democratic space, contrary to the indoctrination of prior years when we were made to believe in the purity of American democracy, especially the right to vote. However, history informs us that it wasn’t until 1920 that White women in America got the right to vote, courtesy of the 19th constitutional amendment. It wasn’t until President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that voting was seemingly democratized in the U.S. That law prohibited voting discrimination based on “race, color, or national origin.” However, because of the chasm of difference between the spirit of the law and the practicalities on the ground, voter discrimination and the disenfranchisement of Black, Latinx and other communities continue thrive to this day. In other words, what Rep. John Kavanagh openly told CNN perhaps in a moment of unguarded talk or Freudian slip, has been going on for several decades. Voter suppression is the peacetime equivalent of an improvised explosive device (IED) used to sabotage voting and democracy. It has been a deliberate, systematic, subversive and strategic disenfranchisement of minorities’ right to vote in a country that is so full of Republican Pharisees of democracy. 

This cancer of voter suppression is indeed very debilitating. Here is how a Washington Post analysis (March 11, 2021) articulated and presented the measures put in place by Republican states across the US: “In 43 states across the country, Republican lawmakers have proposed at least 250 laws that would limit mail, early in-person and Election Day voting with such constraints as stricter ID requirements, limited hours or narrower eligibility to vote absentee, according to data compiled as of Feb. 19 by the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice. Even more proposals have been introduced since then.” 

Here is a practical example of how voter suppression works. It is an example from Georgia, where Republicans lost two senate seats and Donald Trump was trumped in the last presidential election, all of which enabled the Democrats to gain majority in the senate and win the White House. African Americans have traditionally voted massively on Sundays in what is called “souls to the polls” approach to casting their ballot. So, from church on Sundays they go to vote. But, according to a bill titled HB 531 introduced by Republican Rep. Barry Fleming in the Georgia State’s House, voting on Sunday will be banned in order to maintain “election integrity.” Early voting? That too has been limited to Monday to Friday, between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except in special circumstances. Absentee ballots? That too has been shackled. Other live-wires have also been introduced to ensure voter repression in Georgia. 

What is quite laughable is the main reason for the introduction of voter repression laws in Republican-controlled states. Republican law-makers and governors say that they wish to prevent voter fraud and maintain the integrity of the vote. But, is this assertion evidence based? The answer is an unqualified NO. Last December, former Trump attorney general and a man well-known to be the lackey of his former boss was for once compelled to speak the truth about the presidential election. In an Associated Press interview, Barr, the man who had set for himself an incredibly low bar about telling the truth, said this: “to date, we (FBI and Justice Department) have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” Simply put, Barr said Trump lost the election. 

Here is another insight about US and election fraud. On September 13, 2020, the Voice of America (VOA), arguably an arm of the US government, reported a voter-fraud study by the Washington D.C.-based conservative think tank, The Heritage Foundation. According to the VOA, “The Heritage Foundation’s database includes 1,296 ‘proven instances of voter fraud’ out of the hundreds of millions of votes cast going back to 1992. Of those cases identified, 1,120 resulted in criminal convictions.” This voter fraud research outcome by a conservative organization, glaringly demonstrates the statistically insignificant figure of voter fraud in US elections. Perhaps, the real issue about this voter fraud claim is that fraudulent people try to use it to conceal their intention to prevent people, mainly minorities, from exercising their right to vote. 

The truth is that Republicans were so rattled and terrified by the outcome of the Georgia and Arizona elections specifically, that they decided it was time to come out of their closet to do what had been their subterranean method of operation and objective over the decades, that is, reverse the surge of voter enthusiasm by minorities, especially African American folks.  

So, while the US ostensibly promotes democracy abroad by telling the likes of the military dictators in Myanmar, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and other lunatics-in-power across the globe to respect people’s right to vote and uphold the tenets of democracy, Republicans at home are busy building anti-democracy bombs to make it impossible for minorities to exercise the same rights. This is beyond unabashed showmanship in hypocrisy. And, when you look at such flagrant and hypocritical behavior, you want to respond with Fela’s contemptuous denigration of Western-style demonstration of craze, alias democracy, and say: Teacher, don’t teach me nonsense

  • Prof. Onyebadi, Chair of Journalism Department, Texas Christian University, USA, is on the Editorial Advisory Board of Naija Times
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