How will it be for these officials, when a grandson or granddaughter says,
"Today in class we compared and contrasted the Jim Crow years with the Voting Wars of 2012? What did you do during that time? Did you help the people?"
They will have to explain to their progeny that far from helping the people, they helped create and impose such laws.
That they purposely - in the name of a phantom crisis - placed an unforgivable burden on registered, eligible voters. That they used dirty tricks, excluding people whose names no longer matched those on their birth certificates, due to adoption or marriage. Barricading voters by virtue of requiring long hours away from work that they cannot manage. Usurping the constitutional rights of rural voters who are unable to leave their own precincts and travel on a weekday 200 miles to a county with a DMV office. Sending hundreds of thousands of people into a panic just before Election Day as they - determined to vote - scramble to find the right documents. Hoping to pass the subjective inspection of a clerk in a driver’s license center.
How will they describe their own legacy as a public servant? How will they defend the way they let their own fear of a particular outcome lead them to prey on others’ fears - of the specter of thugs lurking at polls, plotting to cast fraudulent votes? Do they ever worry that history may cast them as the thugs?
Because time marches on. 9/11 is now a chapter in a middle-school Social Studies book. The inauguration date of the first black President is a question on a quiz in ninth grade Civics. A report on the death of bin Laden is assigned to senior US History students.
School kids are going to study these hurried changes to election law one day. Class discussions will explore the context: Who was in office at the time? Who benefited? How was democracy affected?
What will be clear is that this year, it was harder to vote.
What is less clear is how that will feel, after years of reflection, to this adamant Republican leadership - their aggressive, unyielding push for so-called voter integrity laws; their unrepentant effort to bring hardship on fellow voters.
- Students will learn how in Florida, just before a federal election, officials made reckless purges of voter rolls, even though voter-list maintenance is the responsibility of practiced election officials year round, normally done month-by-month, to prevent sudden unnecessary removals.
- Textbooks will include sections on how in Ohio, officials slashed early-voting hours during times that overlapped with those used mostly by black voters. Students can draw their own conclusions about that for extra credit.
- Teachers will lecture on how in New Hampshire, for the first time in 2012, officials tried to ban college students from using their dormitory addresses to register.
- High school students will learn how in Pennsylvania, Texas, and South Carolina, officials wrote Voter ID laws that bore an eerie similarity to Jim Crow laws. Class reports will be written on how in both eras, practices were designed to wear down and discourage voters. How in both eras, systems allowed for capricious judgments by government clerks and poll-workers to determine who got to vote. How in both eras, self-appointed citizen “poll-watchers” were allowed to stand inside polling places, appraising voters in line and challenging the eligibility of anyone they decided looked unscrupulous.
How’s that gonna be; justifying these inexcusable laws to a young person standing before them one day?
How will the leaders of today’s Republican Party explain,
in the coming years, that once upon a time
they sought powerful positions in a democracy
by obstructing the right to vote?
“Nothing is so necessary to liberty as the freedom to vote without bans or barriers.” President Lyndon B. Johnson