“The extension of the franchise to black citizens was strongly resisted. Among others, the Ku Klux Klan . . . attempted to prevent the 15th Amendment from being enforced by violence and intimidation. Two decisions in 1876 by the Supreme Court narrowed the scope of enforcement under the Enforcement Act and the Force Act, and, together with the end of Reconstruction marked by the removal of federal troops after the Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1877, resulted in a climate in which violence could be used to depress black voter turnout and fraud could be used to undo the effect of lawfully cast votes.” — “Before the Voting Rights Act,” Justice Department.
“The Justice Department is significantly reducing the number of federal observers stationed inside polling places in next month’s election at the same time that voters will face strict new election laws in more than a dozen states. . . . For the past five decades, the Justice Department has sent hundreds of observers and poll monitors across the country to ensure that voters are not intimidated or discriminated against when they cast their ballots. But U.S. officials say that a 2013 Supreme Court decision now limits the federal government’s role inside polling places on Election Day.” — The Post, Oct. 6.
Enter Donald Trump, loudly claiming that the presidential election is “rigged” against him and delegitimizing our democratic process by suggesting that he may not accept the results if he loses.
But what he plans to do before votes are even counted should also raise concern.
Trump has called for his supporters to stand watch at polling places in “certain areas,” a tactic that could be aimed at intimidating and suppressing the votes of African Americans and other minorities.
“And when I say ‘watch,’ you know what I’m talking about,” Trump said at an Ohio rally in August. “Right? You know what I’m talking about.”
“Watch Philadelphia. Watch St. Louis. Watch Chicago. Watch so many other places,” he said this week.
If you don’t get Trump’s meaning, his supporter Steve Webb, a 61-year-old carpenter from Fairfield, Ohio, does.
“Trump said to watch your precincts. I’m going to go, for sure,” Webb told the Boston Globe. “I’ll look for . . . well, it’s called racial profiling. Mexicans. Syrians. People who can’t speak American. I’m going to go right up behind them. I’ll do everything legally. I want to see if they are accountable. I’m not going to do anything illegal. I’m going to make them a little bit nervous.”
Expect Trump’s vigilantes to hover at the polling places of people who don’t look like them. They will be taking a page from their forebears, who used poll taxes, literacy tests and violence to challenge and suppress the black vote.
Black voter suppression succeeded in the 1880s, thanks to the withdrawal of federal troops and damaging Reconstruction-era Supreme Court decisions.
What effect will the court’s 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act, strict new state election laws aimed at lowering minority voter participation, reduced deployment of federal observers in polling places and the presence of Trump’s ballot bullies have on minority voter turnout next month?
The answer, in part, is in the hands of those with the most to lose if Trump wins: namely, the beneficiaries and heirs of the United States’ voting rights legacy.
In June, I wrote that with this election, nothing — not rallies, conventions, debates — mattered more than “getting out the vote.”
Trump and his posse make GOTV all the more urgent.
National civil rights groups, led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, intend to come out in force nationwide with volunteers trained to serve as a first line of defense against the intimidators.
Others need to swing into action.
Pastors have to take to their pulpits and preach on exercising this basic right. Closer to home, the influential Metropolitan AME Church is spearheading “Ready, Set, Vote” to stir up voters, especially millennials, to go to the polls.
National organizations such as the Links Inc., a group of nearly 14,000 professional women of color in 41 states and the District, are devoting the month to mobilizing voters.
Their actions, one hopes, will be replicated by other national fraternal, religious and civil rights organizations.
If it means standing near voting precincts to monitor Trump’s watchers, do that, too.
It would be a crying shame, and a betrayal of those who labored, sacrificed and died to gain access to the ballot, if today’s forces of darkness succeeded in blocking the path to the voting booth, as some of their ancestors did.
The watchword in Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis and all the “certain areas” where Trump intends to dispatch his watchers: Not in our house. Not this time.
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