In what promises to be a very close contest, the election between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones for Alabama’s next Senator could be decided not by issues, personalities, sexual misconduct charges or differing views on gays, religious beliefs or immigration.
It may well turn on some of the most aggressive, vicious, one-sided voter suppression laws in the United States.
Alabama has a long history of suppressing the votes dating back at least to 1901 when the state passed a new constitution whose main purpose was to deny African Americans the right to vote.
"The bill’s sponsors were even caught on tape devising a plan to depress the turnout of black voters — whom they called “aborigines” and “illiterates” https://t.co/PsC23RfGf2
— Anne Helen Petersen (@annehelen) December 11, 2017
At the convention where the new constitution was drafted, according to Newsweek, the president of the convention, John B. Knox, declared their express purpose was to “establish white supremacy in this State.”
The year after it went into effect, when 180,000 black residents were eligible to vote, the number who actually got to the polls dropped to about 3,000.
There have been some court fights since then, a few with bizarre anti-black rulings, that have helped eliminate the state’s poll tax and literacy requirements, but lots of other obstacles intended to keep African Americans – 90 percent of whom typically vote Democratic – from the polls in a state now dominated by Republicans.
Alabama GOP Secretary of State John Merrill, who voted for Roy Moore & is overseeing election, has long record of voter suppression https://t.co/KxPRqr3J6d
— Ari Berman (@AriBerman) December 11, 2017
In the 2008 election, it was estimated at least 15 percent of eligible black voters – about 250,000 people – were turned away by repressive rules, according to the Sentencing Project, and that doesn’t count hundreds of thousands who are ineligible because they had been convicted of a crime in the past.
African Americans, reports Newsweek, make up about 27 percent of the population, so having 15 percent of this group disenfranchised means about 4 percent of the total vote.
In the Senate election tomorrow, four percent could easily swing the results toward the controversial Republican candidate.
Since Republicans have dominated the state, they have actually passed more rules and found more ways to suppress the voting by Blacks and Latinos in particular.
In 2011, the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a law that all voters must have a photo ID, which immediately disenfranchised many rural and poor Blacks.
In 2015, the legislature refused to raise taxes enough to cover basic state functions, so they began to cut things. One of those was the motor vehicle department offices in each county that issues the photo ID licenses, which are required to vote.
The state closed 31 offices, including every single one in a county in which Blacks made up 75 percent of the voters in the 2012 election, according to AL.com.
“These closings again force people in the Black Belt – a poor rural area disproportionaltey affeted by diver licesne office closings – to jump through more hoops than others to cast their votes,” reported AL.com in 2015.
Black Belt is a reference to an area of Alabama with rich black soil, but it also is home to many poor African Americans who historically work for the regions many white-owned farms.
So in places like Perry County, where thousands marched from Selma to Montgomery for the right to vote, the office where people get the IDs that they need to vote is now closed.
The state’s response is that photo ID’s are available in country registars offices, but their hours are limited and getting the ID involves a lot of paperwork, including signing an affidavit in which that person must swear they have no other form of photo ID.
There are currently 118,000 voters in Alabama who have no acceptable photo ID that would qualify them to vote – mostly Blacks and Latinos – according to Deuel Ross, an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, as reported by The Daily Beast.
“Black and Latino voters are twice as likley as whites not to have any ID or acceptable ID,” according to Ross.
A study found that after the voter ID law was passed, voting by African Americans fell 8 percent in the next election, reports The Daily Beast, which is a much higher percentage than in majority white counties.
If that isn’t discouraging enough, in many of the counties where a lot of African Americans might vote, police are stationed in front of the polls where they inform Black voters that once they have their name on the registration book, if they have any outstanding warrants, tickets or other legal matters, they can expect to be immediately arrested or served with legal papers.
If he wins on Tuesday, Roy Moore can partly thank the Shelby County v. Holder decision. Voter suppression will play a big role in Alabama’s special election for U.S. Senate. @fivefifths is right to note that we aren’t talking enough about that. https://t.co/XSPM68fALO
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) December 7, 2017
Unlike states that encourage voting by everyone, Alabama also requires people to actually physically show up and vote on the specified day. There is no easy advance registration, no early voting, no automatic voter registration and no pre-registration for people under 18 – all of which are the case in other states that want people to vote.
— Verrit (@verrit) December 11, 2017
Trump created a commission to look at voting, but put in charge someone who has been a leader in suppressing voting in his home state of Kansas, with a mandate to address the imaginary problem of voting by illegal aliens or people who vote in more than one state – all of which are a minuscule percentage of voters compared to the devastating effects of state suppression in places like North Carolna, Wisconsin and yes, Alabama.
Alabama voter suppression shows American democracy is no longer a shining light. It is dark and deceptive, fueled by dark money supplied by the devious and deviant. Political parties die. It is time for America to hold a funeral for the GOP; it and democracy cannot co-exist.
— Robert Lee (@downtownrob88) December 11, 2017
For the NAACP suit, Ross told The Daily Beast, “invstigators found only two cases of fraud between 2001 and 2010 that would have been prevented by the ID law….And that is what justified disenfrancisng 118.000 voters, two-thirds of whom just happen to be black and Latino.”
In a 2014 Senate election in Alabama, there were 818,000 votes cast. Those disqualified made up 10 percent of the number who voted. In tomorrow’s election, a swing of 10 percent would almost certainly throw the election to Moore.
So while Moore’s disgraceful sexual history, his hatred for gays, Jews, Muslims and anyone who isn’t his kind of Christian, would seem to be a problem, he may well win despite all that because once again the fix is in and Alabama’s white Republican bosses are in charge.