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Sunday, November 26, 2017

After decades of voter suppression Trump & Moore say "Let Alabamians Decide!"

When asked if President Donald Trump believed the women that are accusing Alabama Senatorial candidate Roy Moore dating them when he was in his 30s and they were teenagers as young as 14, charges he denies, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, 16 November 2017:
"Look, the president believes these allegations are very troubling and should be taken seriously, and he thinks the people of Alabama should make the decision on who their senator should be."
That quickly became the response of Moore supporters around the country when asked to weigh in on the moral character of Roy Moore in the face of charges of sexually inappropriate behaviour with at least nine women. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said it's "up to the people of Alabama." Conservative commentator Ed Martin repeated "And my point is, as the president has said, let the people of Alabama decide." The letters section of the Orange County Register echoed the headline "Let Alabama decide on Roy Moore’s fate."

They say this about a state in which racism and voter
suppression has distorted every election it has ever had.

Alabama instituted its first measures to limit the African-American vote only two years after the Civil War ended with its first felony disenfranchisement law in 1867. At the same time African-Americans were criminalized. Jeff Manza wrote about this period in Ballot Manipulation and the “Menace of Negro Domination”: Racial Threat and Felon Disenfranchisement in the United States, 1850–2002:
The sharp increase in African-American imprisonment goes hand-in-hand with changes in voting laws. In many Southern states, the percentage of nonwhite prison inmates nearly doubled between 1850 and 1870. Whereas 2% of the Alabama prison population was nonwhite in 1850, 74% was nonwhite in 1870, though the total nonwhite population increased by only 3% (U.S. Department of Commerce 1853, 1872). Felon disenfranchisement provisions offered a tangible response to the threat of new African-American voters that would help preserve existing racial hierarchies.
It was written into the state constitution by the Jim Crow era 1901 Alabama Constitutional Convention. As note by Manza:
[W]hich altered that state’s felon disenfranchisement law to include all crimes of “moral turpitude,” applying to misdemeanors and even to acts not punishable by law (Pippin v. State, 197 Ala. 613 [1916])...John Field Bunting, who introduced the new disenfranchisement law, clearly envisioned it as a mechanism to reduce African-American political power, estimating that “the crime of wife-beating alone would disqualify sixty percent of the Negroes” (Shapiro 1993, p. 541).
In his opening address, John B. Knox, president of the all-white convention, openly justified the law on the basis of white supremacy:
“[In 1861], as now [1901], the negro was the prominent factor in the issue. . . . And what is it that we want to do? Why it is within the limits imposed by the Federal Constitution, to establish white supremacy in this State. . . . The justification for whatever manipulation of the ballot that has occurred in this State has been the menace of negro domination. . . . These provisions are justified in law and in morals, because it is said that the negro is not discriminated against on account of his race, but on account of his intellectual and moral condition.”
With time they learned the disadvantages of such frank expression, but the motivations and justifications have never changed. This law was intentionally vague as to what constituted "moral turpitude,” which allowed un-elected county registrars to interpret it as they saw fit. The effect was as intended. The power of the black vote was greatly diminished.

In 1985, US Attorney Jeff Sessions indicted a number of Alabama civil rights workers on false charges of election fraud for assisting elderly black citizens with absentee voting ballots. That same year the Supreme Court found the "moral turpitude” provision of the Alabama state constitution to be in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and unanimously invalidated it, but 11 years later Alabama passed a new felony disenfranchisement law, which did pretty much the same thing.

That statute led to the disenfranchisement of a quarter-million Alabamians, most of them black. 15% of Alabama's African-American voters lost their right to a ballot because of this law. Finally last May, after a long struggle led by community and civil rights organizations, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law that defined the legal phrase "moral turpitude" and limited the number of crimes to which it could be applied to about 50. The was heralded as a great victory for voting rights and was suppose to restore as many as 250,000 voters to the rolls. But there was a big BUT: In spite of the new law, anyone who had lost their franchise as a result of a criminal conviction still could not regain the right to vote until they pay off any outstanding court fines, legal fees and victim restitution. As a practical matter, that means that most ex-felons still can not exercise the right to vote in Alabama. In effect they have imposed a new poll tax, a voter discrimination measure the 24th Amendment abolished in 1964. These policies will likely be found unconstitutional one day, but not before the help Roy Moore.

A year after a 2013 Supreme Court decision gutted parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Alabama passed a law requiring citizens to have a photo identification in order to vote. Then it closed 31 DMV offices, most in African American communities. John Archibald wrote in AL.com: “Every single county in which blacks make up more than 75 percent of registered voters will see their driver license office closed. Every one.” Mass protests and public exposure, and a DOT investigation that concluded:
"African Americans residing in the Black Belt region of Alabama [were] disproportionately underserved by ALEA's driver licensing services, causing a disparate and adverse impact on the basis of race," 
forced the state to reopen the shuttered offices, but the voter suppression effects of the new law otherwise remain in effect.
At the 52nd anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march over Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge that remains to this day the iconic example of Alabama's opposition to black voting rights, Rev. William Barber said about Alabama’s voter ID law "We can’t be polite about this. We can’t be casual or cavalier. We have more voter suppression in recent years than we’ve seen since Jim Crow.”

In 2016 Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R) opposed automatic voter registration saying "if you’re too sorry or lazy to get up off of your rear and to go register to vote, or to register electronically, and then to go vote, then you don’t deserve that privilege.” The year before he insisted: “The closure of 31 DMV offices will not leave citizens without a place to receive the required I.D. card to vote...All 67 counties in Alabama have a Board of Registrars that issue photo voter I.D. cards." To the ex-cons that the new law is intended to allow to vote, Merrill reminds "In order for you to have your voting rights restored, you have to make sure all your fines and restitution have been paid," Merrill is a Roy Moore supporter and plans to vote for him, of Moore's accusers he said "I don't know whether they're making it up or not, because I don't know their intention."

So, after more than a century of rigging the Alabama vote to insure that bigots like Roy Moore can keep getting elected, they can all sound so fair and democratic by saying "Let the people of Alabama decide," when really, that is their worst nightmare.

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