Needless to say, we have reached a turning point in the presidential campaign, and now that the party conventions are a thing of the past, the finish line is in sight. On November 8, the country will be faced with a decision between two very well-known, and very unlikable candidates. So while the past two weeks has been solely dedicated to defining and redefining character, crafting messages, and displaying party unity, political forces have been hard at work attempting to impact the most important mechanism of our democratic process: voter turnout.
Now, you may have missed it - understandably so. I mean with all the balloon drops, twenty-four hour coverage, and endless banter between parties over the past two weeks, its easy to see how such important news can be lost in the shuffle. However, while the nation was enthralled in dialogue about plagiarized speeches and political back-biting, camouflaged in the scroll at the bottom of the screen was should-be breaking news that impacted - literally - millions of voters across the country. In the past week alone, at least four Republican-controlled states' efforts to disenfranchise millions of minority voters were struck down by federal appeals courts.
Voter suppression is no new phenomenon, especially when talking about mass disenfranchisement of people of color. History has shown that increases of minority participation in the electoral process have always been met with sharp opposition. When freed slaves were granted the right to vote, Southern states ushered in the era of Jim Crow legislation. Poll taxes, grandfather clauses, and literacy tests were the norm for more than half a century. From the passing of the 15th Amendment to the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, systemic mechanism were in place that were specifically designed to deny access to the polls for non-white citizens. In fact, the Republican Party that we know today was a design of Nixon-era strategists who dreamed of transforming the "party of Lincoln" into a Southern, Caucasian-centric party that played on White American fears of an inclusive electorate.
Scholars have shown for years that an increase in voter turnout benefits the Democratic Party, and that pudding-proof could be seen in the results of the 2008 and 2012 election cycles. 2008 produced a record 131 million voters - a full five-million more than the previous presidential election. That increase was largely composed of minority and first time voters - more than 2 million were black, and 2 million were Hispanic. Then-Senator Obama was able to mobilize millions of voters and increase registration and turnout in virtually every key state in the country. The end result wasn't even close. Since that day, Republicans have been frantically working to thwart the momentum and electoral advantage achieved by the Democratic Party in 2008.
In 2010 Republicans gained control of nearly two-thirds of state legislative chambers and Governor's offices, and since that day, there has been a concentrated effort to introduce and pass legislation aimed at suppressing votes and erasing the statistical disadvantages faced in the 2008 election. Laws in Kansas, Wisconsin, Texas and North Carolina embody just how far Republican lawmakers have gone in the past six years to ensure that people of color face the hardest road possible to get to the polls. Rather it be achieved through poll-based restrictions - such as restricting or eliminating Early Voting periods in states like Ohio, Florida, or Texas, or requiring special voter identifications in 22 states - or through registration-based restrictions - like the illegal purging of more than 180,000 voters in Florida because their names sounded to "ethnic" to be citizens, or calling for additional proof of citizenship outside of federal requirements - Republicans have tried every trick in the book to make sure that people of color cannot and will not show up to the polls on November 8th.
The laws struck down this week are a product of these efforts. Courts have worked to halt legislation that has been proven to disproportionately impact turnout of minorities in the upcoming election. Cases in Arizona, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and countless other states have all been litigated at every level of the judicial system, and an overwhelming majority has been deemed unconstitutional. Organizations such as the ACLU, NAACP, and League of Women Voters have successfully challenged the most heinous laws that - if upheld - threatened to keep millions of minorities from casting votes. Unfortunately, all of their work may have been for nothing.
You see, there is a pocket of minority voters in America that are so wrapped up in the game of politics, that they threaten to sit this election out. They have become so disenchanted with the candidate selection process that they have elected to suppress their own votes rather than exercise the right to vote that many spent more than a century fighting for. While this definitely does not represent a large portion of people of color, the simple threat of sitting out can have drastic ramifications for the future of voting rights in America. First, should conservatives be successful in this cycle, especially at the state and local level, they will most certainly continue to attempt to pass legislation to maintain their stronghold. The Voting Rights Act has been gutted and there is no resolution in sight. Redistricting will occur with the 2020 census, and gerrymandered congressional districts will only get more unrepresentative. Finally, the next president will not only have the power to nominate multiple Supreme Court Justices, they will also shape the lower federal court system for decades to come. Sitting out means you potentially remove all roadblocks designed to protect your right to vote.
I understand that most minorities are able to see the forest through the trees. However, all it takes is a few thousand disgruntled minorities in vital states to drastically reshape the direction of the country. Think of it this way... Florida was won by less than 100,000 votes in 2012, as was Ohio. North Carolina was lost by the same margin. If less than one percent doesn't show up in 2016 - either through voluntarily sitting out the election or as a result of suppressive voting legislation - that essentially equals to a Trump presidency. Waiting on an "I told you so" on November 9th may actually mean you - and your children - may face a future where the right to vote - that you voluntarily gave up this election - may not be an option in the very near future. Is it worth it?