Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
As the U.S. prepares to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, civil rights leaders are calling on voters to honor his legacy by pushing back against laws being enacted across the country narrowing voting rights.
It would disgrace and dishonor the memory of King to not speak up and take a stand against a movement to pass laws and procedures that restrict and infringe on voting rights, said Randal Gaines, an attorney and longtime member of the Louisiana State Legislature.
He will be the keynote speaker for the Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday Program on Monday, sponsored by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of New Mexico. Because of COVID, this will be a webinar program.
“Preserving the sanctity of our democracy by preserving our voting rights is the most important issue facing America today,” said Gaines, who is vice chairman of the SCLC’s National Board.
In 2021, 19 states, most of them controlled by Republican legislatures, passed 34 laws “that suppress the right to vote or obstruct access to the ballot,” said Gaines in a phone conversation with the Journal earlier this week.
“These laws target the voting patterns of African Americans and minorities, and the disproportional impact on these communities is intentional – it is not incidental.”
The strategy is driven by the understanding that “African American and minority communities traditionally vote as Democrats, and as goes the voting strength of minorities, so goes the voting strength of Democrats,” Gaines said.
The more restrictive laws and election procedures make mail-in and early voting more difficult, impose stricter voter identification requirements, reduce the number of polling places and make faulty voter purges more likely, he said.
Facing lawsuits, Georgia in 2019 abandoned its long-standing “exact match” system, Gaines said. Under that system, a person’s voting status was suspended if the name on their voter registration form did not exactly match the name on their driver’s license or Social Security records. Of 51,000 people whose voting status was suspended in 2018, 80% of them were African American.
Gaines noted that people in Georgia can now be charged criminally for handing out water or snacks to voters waiting in line at polling sites; in Iowa and Kansas, people can face criminal charges for returning ballots on behalf of voters who may need assistance, such as voters with disabilities; and in Texas, election officials could face criminal prosecution if they encourage voters to request mail ballots or regulate the conduct of poll watchers.
“And all of this has been done under the cover of false allegations of voter fraud,” said Gaines. “There were more than 60 lawsuits brought, claiming some version of massive voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and nearly all of those cases were dismissed without finding any evidence, and certainly no evidence of fraud that came remotely close to impacting the outcome of the presidential election.”
The way to ensure the voting rights of all is to “raise our voices and take a stand,” Gaines said. “To do less would be to discredit the sacrifices of Dr. King, who fought and gave his life to preserve the human, civil and voting rights of all Americans, particularly for African Americans and minorities who had previously been disenfranchised.”
Gaines said voters should contact their state legislators and national representatives and express opposition to any infringement on their voting rights, as well as encourage their leaders in Washington to continue pushing for passage of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore and strengthen parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“We should fully expect them to uphold their oath to preserve all the principles of democracy, as well as the Constitution of America,” Gaines said.