Midway through a wearying New York Times story on the fate of the federal Freedom to Vote Act last week there is a concise explanation of Republican concerns with legislation aimed to ensure all Americans have access to the ballot box. I had to read it twice:
Republicans railed against the legislation, calling it a federal intrusion into state voting operations aimed at giving an unfair advantage to Democratic candidates …
In other words, the party dominated by national politicians who refused to accept certification of the 2020 general election in places like Georgia and Pennsylvania and Arizona are suddenly concerned — nay, shaken! — by the prospect of federal authorities taking some role in ensuring the integrity of the voting process.
And what exactly are these liberal usurpers plotting? The act sets certain minimum standards, like 15 consecutive days of early voting, and requires vote-by-mail options. It would establish automatic registration programs and make Election Day a national holiday. A second measure named for the late Rep. John Lewis would restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that required federal oversight of jurisdictions with a history of voter discrimination.
Those dastardly Democrats.
Of course, this isn’t simply partisan politics. It’s about race. Voter suppression in 2022 is a matter of white people seeking to lock out people of color because the nation is changing and the demographics no longer favor white supremacists. They’ll tell you they are concerned with “integrity” — a sudden worry that was nowhere to be seen when an earlier president called state officials to say “I just want to find 11,780 votes,” to overturn a lawful election. Voter suppression was championed by white supremacists in 1965, and it remains a political life raft for them in 2022.
The irony is that this week we honored one of our greatest Americans. Martin Luther King Jr. staked his life on the importance of the vote. He believed that if all Americans had the right to vote in fair elections that good would triumph over evil in the end. He wasn’t naive. He knew that men were prejudiced. And he knew that our apparent sophistication and modern marvels wouldn’t alone save us from our nature.
“When we look at modern human beings we have to face the fact that we suffer from a kind of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast with a scientific and technological abundance,” he said during his acceptance speech for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. “We’ve learned to fly the air as birds, we’ve learned to swim the seas as fish, yet we haven’t learned to walk the Earth as brothers and sisters.”
He probably wouldn’t be surprised that 58 years on we still haven’t learned to love our fellow man, or even to trust him with a ballot.