A New Form of Jim Crow: Ari Berman on the GOP’s Anti-Democratic Assault on Voting Rights

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The Republican-led House in Georgia has passed a sweeping bill to make it harder to vote, in a move aimed to prevent Democrats from winning future elections. The bill limits access to absentee ballots, limits weekend early voting hours and curbs ballot drop boxes, among other provisions. Across the U.S., Republican lawmakers have introduced more than 250 bills in 43 states aimed at restricting voting access. Ari Berman, author and reporter for Mother Jones, says Republicans are “breaking democracy” with their push to restrict voting. “The Republican Party has no interest in appealing to a majority of Americans. Instead, they are doubling down on anti-democratic tactics so they can get a minority of votes but wield a majority of power,” says Berman.

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StoryApr 02, 2021Will Georgia’s Voting Law Be Repealed as Big Business Joins Critics Opposing “Jim Crow” Suppression?
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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: In Georgia, the Republican-led House passed a sweeping bill Monday to make it harder to vote, in a move aimed at preventing Democrats from winning future elections. Republican lawmakers introduced the legislation after record voter turnout led to Joe Biden beating Donald Trump in November and Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff winning runoff elections in January, giving Democrats control of the U.S. Senate. The Georgia bill limits access to absentee ballots, limits weekend early voting hours, curbs ballot drop boxes, among other provisions.

On Monday, Georgia Democratic Congressmember Jasmine Clark blasted her Republican colleagues.

REP. JASMINE CLARK: Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t. The numbers are clear. HB 531 is textbook voter suppression. This bill reduces, restricts and limits every single aspect of our elections. …

And make no mistake: While the suppressive actions of this bill will harm Black and Brown voters, all voters, including the ones that support your team, will be affected. As we saw in the last election, undermining absentee voting cost Trump over 20,000 votes across the state. Add this to the fact that this bill is meant to placate the same crowd that believes the big lie of voter fraud, and they don’t trust the Dominion voting machines anyway, you will find yourselves in a conundrum. This bill is cutting off your nose to spite your face. Instead of reducing, restricting and limiting our elections, we should be in this chamber working to make voting more accessible.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Georgia Democratic state Representative Jasmine Clark.

Across the United States, Republican lawmakers have introduced more than 250 bills in 43 states to restrict voting access. This comes as the Supreme Court is hearing a major case today about Arizona’s election laws that could result in the further weakening of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Democratic lawmakers are pushing two separate bills to protect voting rights: H.R. 1, the For the People Act, and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act.

We go now to Ari Berman, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, reporter for Mother Jones, where his article in the March/April issue of the magazine is headlined “The Insurrection Was Put Down. The GOP Plan for Minority Rule Marches On: How Republicans are breaking democracy.”

Ari, explain.

ARI BERMAN: Good morning, Amy.

Well, we’re seeing it all across the country, how Republicans are breaking democracy. They are weaponizing Trump’s big lie to try to pass 250 new restrictions on voting in 43 states, which would be the biggest rollback of voting rights in decades. They are pushing extreme gerrymandering to try to keep power in the states and to try to take back the House in 2022. They are using the filibuster, so that 41 GOP senators, representing just 21% of the country, can block everything from a $15 minimum wage to legislation to restore the Voting Rights Act.

So, over and over and over, we’re seeing that the Republican Party has no interest in appealing to a majority of Americans. Instead, they are doubling down on anti-democratic tactics so they can get a minority of votes but wield a majority of power. And that’s a very, very dangerous phenomenon for American democracy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Ari, I wanted to ask you — ironically, the pandemic helped to expand the voting accessibility for millions of Americans, and I think it was, in part, responsible for the huge turnout, especially the universal mail-in ballots and the extension of voting times. What do you think are the key issues that folks who want to continue to expand ballot access should be focusing on right now in terms of the reforms that Republicans or the rollbacks the Republicans are trying to institute?

ARI BERMAN: That’s absolutely right, Juan. I think one of the reasons we had such high voter turnout in November was because people had more options to vote than ever before. People could vote by mail in more states than ever before. People could vote early in person, and people could vote on Election Day like they traditionally do. And giving people all of those options really helped increase voter turnout.

And that’s exactly what Republicans want to roll back. They are trying to roll back the voting methods that they believe that Democrats used the most in 2020. So, yes, they are targeting mail voting. They are trying to get rid of universal vote by mail. They are trying to restrict mail ballot drop boxes in states like Georgia.

But they’re also going after in-person voting, which goes to show you this has nothing to do with election integrity, because at the same time they’re getting rid of mail voting, they’re also trying to get rid of things like early voting, that make it easier for people to vote, no matter which party they represent — in Georgia, for example, trying to get rid of weekend voting and Sunday voting, when Black churches hold Souls to the Polls voter mobilization drives. Black voters in Georgia are 30% of the electorate but made up 37% of Sunday voters.

So, this is really a new form of Jim Crow, because they are targeting the voting methods that were used the most by Black voters in states like Georgia, that led to record turnout, that helped flip Georgia blue and elect two Democratic senators. And those very voting methods that led to higher turnout, those are the things that are on the chopping block right now.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you about the hearing before the Supreme Court today in oral arguments on a challenge to a pair of Arizona voting policies, again, that make it harder for people to vote. Could you talk about what those policies are and what the likelihood of the court’s ruling on this?

ARI BERMAN: The case centers around two restrictions on voting in Arizona: a restriction that throws out ballots if they’re cast in the wrong precinct, even though those votes would still be valid for statewide offices, and a restriction on the collection of ballots. This disproportionately harms voters of color. Voters of color were twice as likely as white voters to have their votes thrown out for being cast in the wrong precinct. And voters of color, particularly Native American voters and Hispanic voters, are more likely to rely on ballot collection, because they live in remote areas that don’t have regular access to the mail, so they rely on people to drop their ballot off for them.

The case is bigger than that, though. It’s not just challenging two restrictions on voting in Arizona. It’s really challenging the remaining parts of the Voting Rights Act. Remember, in 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act and ruled that states with a long history of discrimination no longer had to approve their voting changes with the federal government. But it left in place a part of the Voting Rights Act, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, that apply nationwide, that could challenge discriminatory voting laws after they were passed. Now the Supreme Court could weaken that part of the law, as well, and that would make it functionally impossible for minority voters to get protection under the Voting Rights Act at a time when new voter suppression laws are proliferating around the country. And this is what’s so dangerous. We need a strong Voting Rights Act more than ever right now, given the spread of voter suppression. But, in fact, the Supreme Court may say that the Voting Rights Act is practically nonexistent, at a time when voter suppression is spreading all across the country.

AMY GOODMAN: Ari Berman, talk about the record of the chief justice, John Roberts, on this.

ARI BERMAN: John Roberts has been trying to weaken the Voting Rights Act for over 40 years. When he was a young lawyer in the Reagan Justice Department, he led the fight to weaken Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which is the part of the Voting Rights Act that’s at issue in this Arizona case. Then, 30 years later, when he became chief justice of the Supreme Court, he gutted the Voting Rights Act and ruled that states like Georgia and Arizona don’t have to approve their voting changes with the federal government anymore.

Interestingly enough, he pointed to the remaining section of the Voting Rights Act as a reason to get rid of one section of it. Well, now they’re trying to get rid of that other section that Roberts said was still relevant. So, this was the plan all along, to try to weaken the Voting Rights Act step by step, so that Republicans could pass even more egregious voter suppression efforts, so that voters of color can no longer look to the court and can no longer look to the Supreme Court for protection. And this would be a historic rollback of the country’s most important voting rights law and a really radical transformation — for the worse — of American democracy.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the pushback, the movement organizing? I think of Stacey Abrams, I mean, voter rights leader in Georgia, who was just warning we’re talking about, if there isn’t federal legislation, state by state deciding whether there is total — whether there is this lack of access for voting for people of color. But she pointed out, until now, actually, Republicans have benefited from expanded access. It only recently turned around. Can you explain that?

ARI BERMAN: Well, I think it’s true, if you look at mail voting, for example. Before 2020, mail voting was used by equal numbers in terms of Democrats and Republicans, or even more by Republicans in a lot of places, like Georgia and Arizona, because Republican voters are older and more rural, so they rely on mail voting more than many Democrats do, who are younger and live in more urban areas. And so, this attack on mail voting is incredibly shortsighted.

You also look at early voting. Yes, Democrats used early voting in higher numbers than Republicans in a lot of states, but a lot of Republicans used early voting, too. In Georgia, in the January 5th runoff, it was the first time that Democrats outnumbered Republicans in early voting, meaning that Republicans outnumbered Democrats in early voting in every previous election in Georgia.

And so, there’s going to be a tremendous amount of collateral damage here for Republicans. They’re betting that they are going to disenfranchise more Democrats than Republicans, but there’s no doubt about it that they’re also going to disenfranchise some of their own voters. One-point-three million voters in Georgia used no-excuse absentee voting, which they want to get rid of. That includes 450,000 Republicans. If I’m a Republican official, I’m a little concerned about the fact that I’m trying to eliminate a method of voting that nearly half a million my own voters used in the last election.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ari, I wanted to ask you — the Senate will have a full vote today on Merrick Garland’s nomination for attorney general. He would be the one who would be defending and implementing the Voting Rights Act. Your thoughts in terms of Merrick Garland on this issue?

ARI BERMAN: Well, I think the Biden Justice Department has signaled that it will be aggressive in enforcing the existing provisions of the Voting Rights Act, not just Merrick Garland, but they have nominated some extremely capable people in other positions of the Justice Department. Kristen Clarke, who is a fantastic civil rights lawyer, would head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which oversees the Voting Rights Act. Vanita Gupta, another fantastic civil rights lawyer, would be the number three person in the Justice Department. So I think the Biden administration has signaled they will be aggressive in enforcing the Voting Rights Act.

The problem is the Voting Rights Act is weakened and could be weaker. And that’s why it’s so important that Democrats in Congress pass federal legislation protecting the right to vote. The For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act are two of the most important pieces of federal legislation for voting rights that we’ve seen since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. And I think if you just rely on the conservative-dominated courts, it’s going to be a very rough road for voting rights. But if they pass expansive federal legislation protecting the right to vote, it becomes a lot easier for voters to seek protection.

AMY GOODMAN: So, finally, we just have 20 seconds, but Louis DeJoy, the major Republican donor who is postmaster general, what’s happening with him and Biden — what control he has over what the mail service has to do with voting?

ARI BERMAN: Well, Biden nominated three new members of the Post Office Board of Governors. The Board of Governors can remove Louis DeJoy. If these three nominees are confirmed, Biden would have a majority of postal governors, who could remove DeJoy from office. So, DeJoy’s days are probably numbered. At the very least, there’s going to be a lot of accountability for him, that there wasn’t. And more than likely, he is going to be removed as postmaster general once Biden gets a majority of Postal Service governors.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you so much for being with us, Ari Berman, author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America. We’ll link to your Mother Jones piece headlined “The Insurrection Was Put Down. The GOP Plan for Minority Rule Marches On.”

Coming up, we speak to Dr. Oni Blackstock about her call to lower the age cutoff for vaccine eligibility for Black Americans. Stay with us.

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