New ‘Poor People’s’ Leader: Anti-Voter Laws Worse Than Russian Meddling

Author:  Mary Claire Blakeman
DURHAM, N.C.--Although alleged Kremlin connections may ultimately sink Trump’s Presidency, Rev. William Barber, II, contends that homegrown voter suppression poses a greater threat to U.S. democracy than Russian election tampering.

Rev William Barber II“Voter suppression hacked our democracy long before any Russian agents meddled in America’s elections,” said Barber, who has gained national interest through his vocal opposition to restrictive voting laws. 

In fact, Barber recently announced that he will step down as president of the North Carolina NAACP this month to assume a new role as president and senior lecturer of Repairers of the Breach and will co-lead the Poor People’s Campaign. That 

 

The Right’s Redistricting 
Strategy: Popular Vote 
Doesn’t Matter 

Pointing out that Hillary Clinton bested Donald Trump by almost 3 million votes, some Democrats salve their wounds from the 2016 election loss by repeating the mantra, “She won the popular vote!” Meanwhile, Donald Trump obsesses about that vote tally so much he refuses to drop the dubious claim that millions of illegal ballots cost him that popular vote victory.

Both views are irrelevant to the right wing kingmakers who have funded voter suppression and redistricting efforts for decades. 

That’s because they long ago adopted a key insight about U.S. elections: the popular vote doesn’t matter. 

As far back as 1980, the late conservative activist Paul Weyrich told a group of religious-right ministers, “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people…As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” 

Notably, in addition to helping found the conservative Heritage Foundation, Weyrich also cofounded the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which has enjoyed Koch-brothers funding to craft and promote the passage of voter suppression laws in numerous state legislatures.

Tea Party’s Multi-Millionaire

In his book,The Third Reconstruction, Rev. William Barber, II, explains how ALEC’s playbook was adapted to reshape North Carolina’s elections when stringent voter suppression laws were enacted by Republicans who rode the Tea Party wave into office in 2010. 

Multi-millionaire Art Pope and his allies funded efforts to gerrymander voting districts to favor his ultraconservative agenda by “stacking and packing” black voters into as few districts as possible. 

As Barber wrote, “Henceforth and forevermore, they thought, the popular vote wouldn’t matter. A majority of North Carolinians could vote against them, but they would still maintain power by winning a majority of the districts.” 

As a result, North Carolina’s congressional delegation shifted from having seven Democrats and six Republicans to its current makeup of 10 Republicans and three Democrats. 

That redistricting strategy, however, is beginning to unravel in North Carolina where the Supreme Court has now ruled against racially gerrymandered legislative and congressional districts three times already this year. It remains to be seen whether the strategy will continue working in other states. 

-- Mary Claire Blakeman 

campaign -- to reignite the one begun by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., almost 50 years ago -- seeks to reorder national priorities to address systemic poverty, racism and the war economy.

Bolstering the effort are recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions that rejected Republican redistricting plans aimed at illegal racial gerrymandering.

States With Highest Poverty

“We’re looking at Putin’s strongman tactics and not at our own race-based voter suppression tactics,” Barber said. “But we have to demand attention. What the states with the highest voter suppression have in common is that they also have the highest rates of poverty.”

Barber developed his critique after spending years building a broad-based social justice coalition and leading the Moral Mondays movement that coalesced in 2013 to combat escalating voter suppression tactics in North Carolina. 

In that state, Republican legislators passed restrictions so blatantly designed to keep black voters away from the polls, the courts eventually charged that they targeted African Americans with “almost surgical precision.” 

For instance, legislators reduced early-voting opportunities after analyzing data showing poor and minority citizens were significantly more likely to cast their ballots prior to election day. They often did so to avoid missing work or as part of Sunday “Souls to the Polls” drives at black churches. 

In Greensboro, N.C. -- where student sit-ins to integrate the Woolworth’s lunch counter helped catalyze the civil rights movement in the 1960s – authorities cut early-voting sites from 16 to only one. That pattern was repeated around the state where a total of 158 similar sites were eliminated. 

In the name of preventing so-called voter fraud, legislators created photo ID restrictions that disproportionately affected minorities and young people, such as those without driver’s licenses. 

Also affected were elders born in rural areas where birth certificates were not issued or were lost. They included many African Americans born in segregated hospitals. Meanwhile, no such ID requirements were applied to absentee ballots -- a voting method used more often by white voters, and one more susceptible to fraud. 

Voter Suppression on Steroids

Although North Carolina’s voter ID laws have been labeled the worst in the nation, dozens of other states have passed similar legislation -- particularly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision struck down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That law required federal “preclearance” review before certain states could change their voting laws. 

As Ari Berman, author of Give Us The Ballot reported in the Nation magazine, by the time of the 2016 presidential election, there were 868 fewer polling places in states with a long history of voter discrimination, such as Arizona and Texas. 

Already this year, legislators in 31 states have introduced close to 100 bills to limit access to registration and voting, according to the Voting Laws Roundup 2017 report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s School of Law. 

“After Shelby they went on steroids in terms of voter suppression legislation,” Barber said. “That’s the real hacking of our system.” 

While Barber and members of the Moral Mondays movement participated in civil disobedience to protest voter suppression in North Carolina, he also led the state’s NAACP to fight it in the courts. In one of those cases -- North Carolina v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP -- the civil rights organization chalked up a victory. On May 15, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) let stand a lower court ruling against the restrictive voting measures.

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