There are many correct answers to this question, from the noble to the mundane to the misguided. But we feel confident claiming that making it hard for Americans to vote was never a stated purpose for going to war in the United States.
Texas state representative Jack Enfinger does not agree. We’ll get to him in a moment. For now, the background. We were listening to a story on the radio about Texas Senate Bill 1, which is titled thusly:
An act relating to election integrity and security, including by
preventing fraud in the conduct of elections in this state;
increasing criminal penalties; creating criminal offenses;
providing civil penalties.
It is one of the many state bills that have been or are about to be passed to stop non-white people from voting in the name of correcting election fraud. It’s not a leap to make this statement, as the decisions of the Supreme Court has been openly stating since 2013 and its Shelby County decision that times have changed, non-white Americans no longer suffer from institutional discrimination, and there is no need to keep the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
We posted about this at the time – see The Supreme Court strikes down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Section 4 of the VRA sets out the criteria for determining when a state/local jurisdiction is violating fair elections and voting. As we said back then,
the Court was reviewing two things: whether racial minorities still face voting intimidation and restriction nearly 50 years after the 1965 Act; and whether it was unfair to keep singling out Southern states for closer inspection than other states. The answer to both these questions was “no”. The current system, says the majority opinion written by Chief Justice Roberts, is “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day. Congress—if it is to divide the states—must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current condition. It cannot simply rely on the past.”
That is, we can’t say that since Southern states prevented black citizens from voting during Reconstruction, in the 1870s, those states should still be identified as requiring federal oversight. The problem with this logic is that one does not have to go back to the 1870s to find voter repression in the Southern states singled out (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and Virginia). These states were preventing black people from voting in the 1920s, 1950s, 1970s, and today. The history of intimidation, arson, and murder used to prevent black Americans from voting in those states is unbroken from 1865 to 2013.
The proof of this claim is in the hundreds of proposed changes to state voting laws in the Southern states currently pending at the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s in the statements made yesterday by Republican leaders in those states that they will take “immediate action” to not only introduce new laws restricting voting rights, but to revive and pass old laws that were rejected by the Justice Department as infringing on the right to vote.
“After the high court announced its momentous ruling Tuesday, officials in Texas and Mississippi pledged to immediately implement laws requiring voters to show photo identification before getting a ballot,” reports the Houston Chronicle. “North Carolina Republicans promised they would quickly try to adopt a similar law. Florida now appears free to set its early voting hours however Gov. Rick Scott and the GOP Legislature please. And Georgia’s most populous county likely will use county commission districts that Republican state legislators drew over the objections of local Democrats. …Laughlin McDonald, who heads the American Civil Liberties Union’s voting rights office, said he agrees that pending submissions to the Justice Department are now moot. It’s less clear what happens to scores of laws that the feds have already denied since the 2006 reauthorization.”
The Southern Republicans in question say that the ruling is a validation of their states’ move away from racial discrimination, an acknowledgement that times have changed. In one way they are right: over the past 20 years, Southern politicians widened the scope of their ambition to attempt to prevent not just black Americans from voting, but the poor, elderly, and Latino as well—all groups they perceive as voting for Democratic party. They have moved away from purely racial discrimination to a much broader discrimination.
Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the majority, said, “Voting discrimination still exists; no one doubts that. The question is whether the Act’s extraordinary measures, including its disparate treatment of the States, continue to satisfy constitutional requirements. As we put it a short time ago, ‘the Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs.’”
There are many things to question here:
If, as the Court claims, voter discrimination still exists, but southern states are no longer the single source of that voter discrimination, then why didn’t the Court expand the VRA to include northern states, rather than kill the VRA?
If the states that wanted the VRA overturned have representatives publicly stating that they would immediately introduce laws that restricted voting, how can the Court state that overturning the VRA will not make voter discrimination worse?
If the VRA is outdated because it’s not current, then what just happened with the Court’s decision in Brnovich v Democratic National Committee?
We won’t go into all of the details of this decision here – you can find an objective, very detailed explanation here at BallotPedia. What we will focus on is the decision’s selection of 1982 as the standard for judging state voting laws: here’s a clear reference from the decision itself:
(B) The degree to which a voting rule departs from what was standard practice when §2 was amended in 1982 is a relevant consideration. The burdens associated with the rules in effect at that time are useful in gauging whether the burdens imposed by a challenged rule are sufficient to prevent voting from being equally “open” or furnishing an equal “opportunity” to vote in the sense meant by §2.
If the problem in 2013 was that an Act from 1965, and thus 48 years old, was too outdated to be relevant (a dubious claim), then how is 1982 okay in 2021? That was 38 years ago, and will only get older.
This discrepancy is just a token for the overall violation of voting rights that the Brnovich decision represents.
Now to circle back to our question about why Americans fought in wars. When we were listening to the radio, we heard many Texas residents saying their piece for and against the legislation. Then we heard state rep Jack Enfinger, of San Antonio, say this:
“This thing about voter suppression is a major false claim—a joke.”
Jack Enfinger, a San Antonio Republican, testified that Texas offers multiple ways to vote, including two weeks of early voting.
“How much more does Texas have to bend over backwards for… the voters? Voting is not supposed to be easy. That’s what our men died for.”
The disdain and incomprehension in Enfinger’s voice when he said “the voters” was remarkable. He makes it very clear that “voters” are a subspecies of American that somehow cannot be equated with “citizens.”
But it’s his claim that American men [sic] fought to prevent Americans from being able to vote easily is so alarming and cray that it takes your breath away. What can it mean? Because the bill in Texas makes it harder for non-white people to vote, the only possible answer seems to be that he’s saying white American men fought and died in foreign wars to make sure that only white American men could ever vote here at home. Americans fought and died in WWII to keep America white.
This is, by now, mainstream, often-heard white fascist content in America (we never thought we’d be saying this in our lifetimes). It hardly causes a stir anymore–since 2020, we’ve become used to fascism in the mainstream. This comment will win Enfinger more Republican support, and otherwise disappear.
But the Supreme Court is on his side, and that’s a problem that’s larger than Texas, and won’t go away. The Shelby decision and the Brnovich decision and the decisions that are coming soon don’t use Enfinger’s direct language, but they are of a piece, and they shore him up and support him.
We seem to end every post the same way lately – do what you can on your local level, vote, protest, get involved in local politics. The minority of people who are passionately devoted to destroying democracy in America are active every day in these ways. SIgn a petition, go to a speech by your representative or a candidate. America has a long tradition of making this relatively easy to do… for now.