Terry McLaughlin: Voting rights, now and then
In 2015 Vice President Joe Biden stated: “Voting is the engine that drives all civil rights, all human rights, and all economic rights in this country. It’s the right from which all other rights flow.”
He repeated this assertion in his Jan. 11 speech in Atlanta, Georgia, when now as president, he said: “The fundamental right to vote is the right from which all other rights flow.”
Voting is very important, and all citizens should carefully evaluate issues and candidates and vote accordingly.
Fair and honest elections, with votes cast by knowledgeable and informed citizens, are an integral part of our democratic republic.
However, I do not believe that the right to vote is the source of all of our other rights. And quite recently, neither did President Biden.
On May 28, 2021, speaking to American service members, the president stated: “None of you get your rights from your government. You get your rights merely because you’re a child of God. The government is there to protect those God-given rights. No other government has been based on that notion. No one can defeat us except us.”
Nothing inherent in democratic theory can guarantee that people will vote in favor of sustaining their own rights, much less the rights of other people.
Ten years before the Voting Rights Act of 1964 was passed, the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. The process of desegregation actually began with federal troops enforcing the Supreme Court ruling.
Extending voting rights to Black Americans in the South was morally right, but if segregation had been put up to a vote at the time, it would likely have been sustained by a majority of voters.
Our founders understood human nature and that people can get angry, confused or misinformed, causing them to sometimes make regrettable decisions. Therefore, they made it difficult to change or amend the Constitution.
Instead, holding frequent elections allows the voters to re-evaluate and recognize that perhaps they went too far in the previous election. Frequent elections are part of the process of self-correction. I suspect that if you put free speech rights up for a vote today, you might regret to find that you have fewer free speech rights tomorrow.
Most Americans believe what President Biden pointed out in his May 2021 speech — that our rights derive from the fact that we are created by God and it is the job of the state to protect those inalienable rights, including the right to vote, as described in our Constitution.
But this month, for political expediency our president has decided that all of our rights come from voting and anyone who disagrees is — you guessed it — a racist.
“Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?” he asked. “Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”
Some of our younger citizens may not even know of whom the president was speaking. What he was saying is that if you disfavor mass mail-in ballots, for example, because they break the chain of custody that links the casting, collection and tabulation of votes, you must be like George Wallace, Alabama’s Democrat governor who stood in a doorway in 1963 to prevent Black students from integrating the University of Alabama, and whose slogan was “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!”
Interestingly enough, in 1975, then-Sen. Biden said, “I think the Democratic Party could stand a liberal George Wallace — someone who’s not afraid to stand up and offend people, someone who wouldn’t pander but would say what the American people know in their gut is right.”
Or if you question the process of ballot harvesting — allowing anyone, including campaign workers, to collect mail-in ballots from voters’ homes and turn them in to election officials on the “honor system” — then you must be like Bull Connor, who was elected to the Alabama Democratic National Committee in 1960, and who as Birmingham’s commissioner of public safety used dogs and fire hoses to intimidate peaceful, mainly Black civil rights protesters in 1963.
An August 2021 survey by the Honest Elections Project found that 81% of those polled favored voter ID requirements, including 77% of respondents who were Black. But the president asserts that the millions of Americans favoring voter ID must be like Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate states whose troops killed over 360,000 Union soldiers in the Civil War in an attempt to preserve slavery.
On Inauguration Day, President Biden promised to bring Americans together and seek bipartisan solutions for our country, saying “With unity we can do great things.”
Even those who did not vote for him hoped that he could accomplish that goal. Insulting the millions of Americans of all parties who want to make it easy to vote but hard to cheat, and aligning those Americans with past Democratic segregationists, is not the way to do this.
Even members of his own party have criticized the vitriol and divisiveness displayed.
“Perhaps the president went a little too far in his rhetoric,” said Dick Durbin, the Democratic senator from Illinois, on CNN.
Even Al Sharpton, on MSNBC, said that the president’s remarks would not build support: “I think he gave a ‘You’re going to hell’ speech.”
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Grass Valley, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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