The right to vote in this nation of ours is a bedrock principle — we are a representative democracy, and the fact that every citizen of a certain age has a right to a say in the election of our leaders speaks to who we are as a nation. "We, the people" not "we, the selected people that the elected few deem to be appropriate because they are more likely to skew the vote our way" or some such other nonsense.
The right to cast a vote has been hard won for some groups in this country — women and african americans and other minorities, in particular, had to fight long, hard, bitter battles in order to have a voice in our nation’s elections.
Last week, the Do Nothing Rubber Stamp Republican Congress slapped a hold on the renewal of the Voting Rights Act renewal in the House. (For more on the Voting Rights Act see here and here.) The fact that this hold was put in place by a coalition of Southern Republicans…well, just a coincidence which doesn’t show that we still have a long way to go at all, right? (Um hmmm…)
Yesterday evening, in another Republican initiative in the House, there was an attempt to limit the voting rights of American citizens for whom English is not a first language, by requiring that all voting be done in English only — even in communities where there are substantial populations of non-English-speaking or little-English-speaking immigrants.
Supporters of non-English ballots reminded colleagues that only U.S. citizens are able to vote and that even those whose native language is English have difficulty with complex ballot initiatives, much less those who learned the language after coming to this country.
An overwhelming majority of Democrats joined with slightly fewer than one-third of House Republicans to reject Stearns’ amendment.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said taking away the right to bilingual ballots would "allow states and localities to discriminate against taxpaying American citizens because of their language ability and impede their right to vote. That is wrong." (For more from Pelosi, see here.)
The Justice Department on Wednesday settled a lawsuit with Brazos County, Texas, for denying Spanish-speaking citizens voting materials and ballots in Spanish and preventing them from getting help in voting.
"The Voting Rights Act has nothing to do with immigration," said Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. "One hundred percent (of those benefiting from non-English ballots) are U.S. citizens."
Look, let’s be honest: sometimes ballot initiatives make no sense, even to lawyers for whom English is a first language and who are used to reading convoluted legalese. How is someone who is a legal immigrant to this country supposed to decipher complex and convoluted ballot information without some language assistance?
Should a recent legal immigrant to this nation, who speaks rudimentary English, works hard, pays taxes and does everything else they can to become a good American, including taking night courses to improve their English language skills, be discriminated against because they don’t understand what a school bond levy for improvements to infrastructure and superstructure initiatives is?
Democrats in the House were superb yesterday evening in helping to beat back what I see as a racist attempt to suppress voting by citizens who have a history of voting for Democrats. There are a number of YouTube videos available of the speeches here, but one in particular from Rep. David Scott (D-GA) was outstanding and I wanted to share it with everyone here. (UPDATE: The YouTube link isn’t working well for me this morning for some reason. You can see the Rep. David Scott link via this Congressional page here. Top right-hand video clip. Sorry for the inconvenience, gang.)
Outstanding speech — reminding us all of the promise of this great nation to the world — of what we could be, were we only to listen more often to the better angels of our natures.
My roommate the first two years at Smith was a very outspoken African-American woman from Jamaica, Queens, New York. She and I were both a bit nervous about rooming together the first year because we came from such different worlds — I was worried that she’d think I was a hick, and she was worried I’d be a Southern racist yahoo. Mercifully for both of us, it worked out very well and we were great friends.
An incident that happened in our Sophomore year still sticks out as a huge reminder that we have a long, long road still ahead in terms of civil rights and racism. She and her boyfriend had ordered a take-out pizza from the Dominoes in Northampton, MA — which is, in all honesty, an incredibly progressive town, by and large. When they stopped by the pizza place on the way back to the dorm, the owner of the shop chased them both out with a broom, screaming at them that they would not be allowed to rob his store.
These were two upwardly-mobile, college students who happened to be black, in a town where progressive values were not only the norm, but expected. It was devastating for them, and impossible for me to come close to understanding.
Take a look again at the children in the picture at the top with Dr. King. The hope on all of their faces for a better America — one where we lift up the aspirations of every child, of every person in this nation of ours, and assure that their dreams are the dreams of us all. Without hope, the nation’s poor and disenfranchised feed on despair and anger, and we all suffer for it. Without a vote, these groups do not have a voice — a voice that they so desperately need in order to make their needs and desires known to the people who govern in their name.
Republicans in the House would do well to remember that not only ought legal immigrants be taught that voting is a sacred and honorable duty — but that a lot of these folks have long, long memories. For shame.
UPDATE: One good way to keep the polls as honest as possible on election day? Volunteer to be a poll watcher.