In the closing days of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves held by U.S. citizens. Subsequently, Republicans in Congress sponsored three amendments to the U.S. Constitution:
- The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, abolished slavery and involuntary servitude throughout all the states of the Union.
- The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, granted U.S. citizenship (not “natural born” citizenship) to all persons born in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction.
- The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, guaranteed all U.S. citizens the right to vote, regardless of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Beginning in 1865, immediately after ratification of the 13th Amendment, Democrats across the South took steps to nullify or circumvent the amendment. The principal vehicles for doing so were the so-called Black Codes. The Black Codes established for whom blacks could or could not work and the type of work they could do. The Codes established curfews, restricted travel by blacks, and often required the former slaves to work for their former owners as apprentices.
Later, unable to attack or reverse citizenship rights granted by the 14th Amendment, Democrats sought to attack the 15th Amendment voting rights of African American through violence and intimidation. The principal tools of intimidation were Democratic paramilitary groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Knights of the White Camellia. Records of Klan atrocities carried out between 1865 and 1882 are incomplete. However, records maintained by the Tuskegee Institute tell us that, between 1882 and 1951, some 3,437 blacks and 1,293 whites, nearly all Republicans, were lynched by Democrats dressed up in white robes and pointed white hats.
Needless to say, the threat of lynching was a very effective tool. On November 1, 1871, John Childers, a black man of Livingston, Alabama… one of the first black men to vote a straight Democrat ticket… was interviewed by members of a U.S. Senate select committee (the complete interview can be found in Senate Report No. 579 of the 48th Congress). Childers was asked, “Did you ever hear any threats made by Democrats against Negroes of what would be done if (they) voted the radical (Republican) ticket?”
Childers replied, “I have heard it often. At the last election it was given to me. There was a man standing here in the courthouse door. When he started to the ballot-box he told me he had a coffin already made for me, because he thought I was going to vote the (Republican) ticket.
He was asked, “Were you afraid if you voted the (Republican) ticket you would be harmed?”
Childers replied, “I was sir, because as I just stated to you, there was a man that told me he had a coffin already made for me. Yes, sir, I voted it, and I don’t pretend to deny it before nobody. When I was going to the polls there was a man standing in the door and (he) says, ‘Here comes you, God damn your soul. I have a coffin already made for you.’ I had two tickets in my pocket then, a Democratic ticket and a radical (Republican) ticket; I pulled out the Democratic ticket and showed it to him, and he says, ‘You are all right, go on.’ ”
But intimidation alone was not a long term solution for Democrats. Instead, they had to find non-violent means of attacking the voting rights of blacks. All across the South, Democrats enacted a wide variety of restrictive measures called Jim Crow laws. Among the most popular were statutes providing for literacy tests, poll taxes, and tests questioning voters’ knowledge of complex constitutional principles that few white voters could answer.
Finally, in early 1965, after a period of both peaceful and violent protests, the U.S. Congress passed corrective legislation. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 nullified the Jim Crow laws by establishing federal oversight of elections in nine states, including the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. The Voting Rights Act prohibited those states from implementing any changes in voting practices without first obtaining Department of Justice approval. The Act has been renewed and amended four times, the most recent being a 25-year extension signed into law by George W. Bush in 2006.
But times have changed and the “shoe is now on the other foot.” What happened to John Childers in Livingston, Alabama, in 1870, is now happening to Republicans all across the country. Many of those who would have been among the politically oppressed in the 19th century have become the political oppressors of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Since passage of the Voting Rights Act, the South has experienced a political renaissance. The fair-minded Democrats who always believed in equal rights for blacks but were afraid to say so publicly, have gradually emigrated to the Republican Party. They are joined on Election Day by millions of Democrats who fully embrace Republican principles, but who find it necessary to remain in the party because they fear retribution by friends, neighbors, and family members. Today, most Democrat party faithful in the South are the low-information rednecks who keep their Klan robes in a drawer, washed and pressed, longing for the return of the good old days.
So while liberals and Democrats continue to insist that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 must be renewed and enforced, they do so not because of evidence of voter suppression by whites against blacks. Instead, their continued support of the Voting Rights Act is principally related to the need to keep blacks convinced that their voting rights are in jeopardy at the hands of white Republicans. In truth, it is the voting rights of Republicans that are most in jeopardy today.
In 2000, the New York Daily News found that some 46,000 New Yorkers, mostly Democrats, were registered to vote in New York and in Florida. An investigation showed that at least 408 of those individuals voted both in New York and in Florida, an election won by Bush and Cheney by only 537 votes. No one knows how many hundreds or thousands of Democrats from other northern states also voted illegally in Florida. What we do know is that at least 408 Florida Republicans had their votes invalidated by Democrats, a serious violation of their civil rights.
In the 2008 U.S. Senate election in Minnesota, incumbent Republican Norm Coleman defeated Saturday Night Live comic Al Franken by 725 votes. However, with Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie in charge of a recount, approximately 17,000 more ballots were counted than there were recorded voters… including 1,400 illegal votes cast by convicted felons, essentially all for Franken. As a result, the 725 Minnesota voters who provided the winning margin for Coleman had their votes fraudulently invalidated. Their civil rights were seriously violated.
In 2008, members of the New Black Panther Party, led by Malik Zulu Shabazz, stood outside a Philadelphia polling place on Election Day, armed with night sticks, intimidating white voters as they entered the polls. In April 1964, an Atlanta restaurateur named Lester Maddox, stood in the doorway of his Pickwick Restaurant armed with a pickaxe handle, threatening blacks who tried to enter. Malik Zulu Shabazz is the Lester Maddox of the 21st century.
In the November 2010 General Election, Lessadolla Sowers, a member of the Tunica County, Mississippi NAACP Executive Committee, cast five fraudulent absentee ballots, four of them for dead people. In November 2012, Sowers was sentenced to five years in prison for what the judge called crimes that cut “against the fabric of our free society.” Because of her crime, five Mississippi Republicans had their votes invalidated, a major violation of their civil rights.
In 2012, a black woman in Cincinnati, Melowese Richardson, admitted to having voted at least six times for Barack Obama… once for herself and five times in the name of others. She said she just wanted to make sure that her vote “counted.” As a result, five Ohio Republicans were disenfranchised. Their votes were invalidated and their civil rights were seriously violated.
In states with “same day” registration, such as Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and Washington DC, where voters can register at the polling place just minutes before voting, Democrats have been known to hire groups of college students to go from precinct to precinct, registering and voting numerous times in a single day. As a result, countless Republicans are disenfranchised, their civil rights seriously violated.
If the Republican Party had any leaders worth their salt, they would be offering amendments to the Voting Rights Act, making vote fraud the civil rights issue of the 21st century. If Harry and Maude, “snowbirds” from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and maybe a half dozen others, found themselves doing five years hard time in a Florida state penitentiary, the double voting would soon stop. The use of fraud, violence, and intimidation in the political process is the stuff of banana republics; it is not what the Founders saw as a staple of the American political process.
Although Melowese Richardson may not think of herself as the 21st century reincarnation of “Bull Connor,” that’s exactly who she is. She has been indicted by the Hamilton County district attorney and now faces up to 15 years in prison. Now it’s time for Republicans in Congress to finally deal with the problem of fraud, violence, and intimidation in the electoral process by making vote fraud the civil rights issue of the 21st century. And if our Republican leaders fail to act, then it’s time we hired some new leadership.