Our Votes Count!
Count Our Votes!
December 20, 2000
"[The black man has] no rights which the white man was bound to
The state of minority voting rights in America is a mess and I see a
line between the debacle of this year and the shameful Dred Scott
The Supreme Court wrote that infamous line in its 1857 Dred Scott
ruled that blacks could not be citizens of the United States of
from that decision, through Plessy versus Ferguson in 1896, which
down a federal law passed to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment to
Constitution, black people in this country have known that the
can, at its worst, become a reflection of the particular mutation of
racism of the
But the record of enfranchisement of blacks during the years of the
Court (1953 to 1969) also shows that the Members of the Supreme
rise above accepted practices of the day to move America toward its
Fortunately, the Warren Court, buttressed by like-minded leaders in
Executive and Legislative Branches, was able to begin the
American life. The Warren Court overturned the Supreme Courtšs
the previous century and ushered America into the Twentieth
desegregation; One Person, One Vote; and desegregation of public
accommodations were the hallmark of the Modern Civil Rights Era
by the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. However, as soon
Warren Years were over, the Supreme Court lurched backwards with
an aim to
obliterate the progress made during the years of the Warren
And so we find ourselves today in a serious retrenchment on our
commitment to mainstreaming into American life its former slaves.
Affirmative action has been decimated and the Voting Rights Act has
bludgeoned, with its enforcement section due to expire in less than a
and the ability of minorities to elect their candidates of choice
hampered. But no one, Išm certain, no one ever thought that the kind
voter suppression witnessed in the Year 2000 Presidential elections
ever be revisited upon Americašs minorities.
We should not be surprised by any decision of todayšs partisan,
Republican, hand-picked Supreme Court. As ignominious as the
decision was, current Chief Justice of the Supreme Court William
as a young law clerk wrote at the time of the Brown versus Board of
decision: "I think Plessy v. Ferguson, the legal foundation for
segregation, was right and should be reaffirmed."
If I had to give a State of the State of the Minority Vote Today, I
that disfranchisement, not enfranchisement, is the order of the day.
herešs why I say that:
First of all, in 1978, the Burger Supreme Court turned the Fourteenth
Amendment sideways by outlawing the use of racial quotas
the purpose of including minorities in Americašs life. A few years
Rehnquist Court would stand the Fourteenth Amendment on its head
issuing a startling decision in Shaw v. Reno that completely changed
political map for Americašs minorities.
That is when I learned the hard way that Supreme Court justices,
participants in our judiciary, are political actors first and foremost.
Because I saw them in action in Johnson v. Miller, Georgiašs
case, that dismantled my district and paved the way so that other
voters across the South could receive similar mistreatment.
The Voting Rights Act was passed to prohibit impediments to voting.
days that meant literacy tests, poll taxes, and direct threats and
intimidation. It also covered redistricting, dual voter lists, location of
polling places, and eventually, voter registration, and purging of
the voter list. However, innovation has never been lacking among
want to suppress and deny minority voting rights. It can come in
And as we have seen in the debacle of the Year 2000 Presidential
especially in Florida, that minority voter suppression comes in many
Having white police blockade the entrance to a precinct and refuse to
free access for the voters because of an erroneous belief that the
Congresswoman hadnšt supported their pay raise is unfortunate, but
worse, is unconscionable disrespect for the people who were trying
exercise their right to vote. That happened at one precinct in my
Having to stand hours in long lines is bad enough. But having to
line, sometimes outside in the rain, in some cases for as many as five
is outrageous and unconscionable and shouldnšt be tolerated
that happened at many of my precincts in my district.
Standing in line for hours, only to reach the table and be told that
not at the correct voting place and therešs no time to get to the
place, therefore you wonšt be able to vote, Sorry, is inexcusable. But
happened over and over and over again in my district.
And having overcrowded voting precincts when more spacious
accommodations were just next door is insulting to black taxpayers,
when those same precincts have poorly trained and too few elections
personnel, equipment, and only one voter list.
Adding insult to injury are the reports that people were actually
to leave rather than to wait and vote once 7:00 arrived, although
been in line well before 7:00.
In the majority black precincts of my district it seems that there was
planned chaos. Interestingly, we have Democrats in charge of our
the public purse is controlled by four white women, both Democrat
Republican who vote together to deny funds to allow a smooth voting
for the areas of the County now experiencing tremendous population
It shouldnšt be surprising that that population growth is nearly all
What makes this failure on the part of our governing body to
necessary funds to accommodate our new voters is that we had this
scenario in 1996, a Presidential election year, but also the year in
faced reelection in a majority white district with well-financed white
Democratic and Republican opposition. It was an overwhelming
that returned me to Congress despite the new district and in the
County elected its first black sheriff and superior court Clerk. They
immediately voted to give the black newspaper the legal organ
a change in the County was evident. There should not have been a
the chaos this year.
But there was.
I would suggest that perhaps the leaders responsible for
for DeKalb County donšt want large voter participation from the black
residents on its south side. Thatšs the only way I can explain the
to fund adequately the elections office for the past four years.
I would posit to you that this is a subtle violation of the Voting
with the intent and effect of suppressing the minority vote.
Additionally, why should people who have served their time and
debt to society be permanently disfranchised from Americašs body
Even President Clinton acknowledges that America needs to
prison policies. That reexamination should include the fact that
states bar criminal offenders form voting even after they have
sentences. Once these people have returned to society, become good
mothers and fathers, have jobs and are taxpayers, why should they
allowed to vote? And because of the disproportionate impact of
racism in this
country, blacks and Latinos bear a disproportionate share of the
burden of the
loss of the right to vote. If Canada and other countries can take
action to register former prisoner and bring them into full
citizenship, then so
I have cosponsored and plan to sponsor legislation having this effect
Additionally, our entire electoral system should be reformed to make
institutions more reflective of Americašs voters. I have authored in
the past three Congresses the Voters Choice Act which allows the
adopt proportional voting schemes that help minority voices be
heard in the
political spectrum without hurting the rights of others. It is
representation in the Republic of South Africa that allows the
parties to have representation in the South African Parliament
In addition, campaign finance reform must become more than a
law if we are to really give voters a choice in candidates. Right now,
special interests select the candidates before we even get to vote, so
choices as voters are severely limited due to the influence of special
interest political money.
Finally, America is increasingly becoming a country of people of
know that southern resistance to minority gains of the Civil Rights
ended. The Georgia State flag reminds us of that every day. But as
becomes a country of color we have seen southern resistance spread
We must remain vigilant. Any policy that has the effect of
diluting the votes of people of color is not sustainable and is a
of the Voting Rights Act.
We have severe problems facing us today. A black boy born in
less chance of reaching age 65 than a boy born in Bangladesh.
black men have been executed this year. And too many black men
relegated to the streets, underpasses, and heating grates of Americašs
It is only through the vote that we will be able to change the
our community and to right the multitudinous wrongs that have
upon our condition. We have the power to change the status quo and
opponents know that well. Thatšs why the practice of minority voter
suppression is alive and well. However, until now, we didnšt realize
power that we have.
The Emperor is naked now.
And as a result, the devious acts of minority voters suppression have
laid bare for the world to see. We have seen them too. I predict that
black electorate will never be the same. Just like white America, we
know that our votes count and as a result we will demand that our