WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 06: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the one-year anniversary of the January 6th insurrection in Statuary Hall of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2022 in Washington, DC. One year ago, supporters of President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol Building in an attempt to disrupt a congressional vote to confirm the electoral college win for Joe Biden. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
By John A. Tures
On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, people might watch the movie “Selma,” a great political movie. But even though people might think the Voting Rights Act was about helping Democrats win elections, the results prove otherwise. When you give the power to the person, instead of the state, more benefit than just a select small group of people.
The Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, over the objection of several Southern Democrats. You may not realize it, but a higher percentage of Republican legislators voted for it than the percentage of Democratic legislators who approved it. LBJ becomes a hero at the end, but you may not realize that Republican Senator Everett Dirksen was a key player in the bill’s passage.=
The Voting Rights Act was followed in 1966 with an election where Republicans gained a net of 47 seats in the U.S. House, three U.S. Senate seats, and seven additional governors’ mansions. Just in case you think that was just a single election, remember that Richard Nixon won in 1968 and 1972. The 1965 Voting Rights Act did not lead to a Democratic wave.
Think it was a fluke? Think again.
Remember back in the 1990s when Democrats proposed easing voting hassles that states had you jump through? In 1993, the large Democratic Party majority passed the “Motor Voter Bill” of 1993, where one could more easily register to vote at the DMV.
The legislation was attacked strongly by Republicans, but that was until the next year, when the GOP netted 10 governors, many state houses, eight U.S. Senate seats, and 54 U.S. House seats.
But even a broken clock tells time right twice a day, right? What if it happened at least three times?
In the 2009-2010 legislative session, the large Democratic majority passed the Help America Vote Act, which was rolled into a Defense Bill. It helped increase the rights of Americans to vote, especially those living overseas and those serving in the military.
In the next election in 2010, Republicans won a net of six governor’s races, an overall gain of seven U.S. Senate seats, as well as running legislatures in 20 states, and an amazing haul of 63 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The party retained their legislative majority in 2012 through 2018.
One of the excuses legislators give for opposing any expansion of voting rights is that it will be so burdensome on states. First of all, states will be freed from their politicized role of finding excuses to block voters.
Any burden will be on the state to prove the person can’t vote, rather than the burden falling on the individual to justify his or her right to vote. Given that the GOP claims to support the rights of the individual against the power of the state, expanding voting rights does fit with the Republican ethos, unless that’s changed too since 2016.
Second, for those who claim only states have been in charge of elections (and only states should be) are missing a lot of key Constitutional and legislative history.
States still administer elections, but there are a number of Constitutional Amendments and legislation, upheld by a host of Supreme Court decisions, that restrict the ability of states to block Americans from voting (see Amendments 14 and 15, 19, 26, etc.).
Opinion contributor John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. His work appears occasionally on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @JohnTures2.