Bring Back the Poll Tax!

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Former President Trump wasted no time making the claim that had practically been his mantra and that of the GOP for decades. A few days after he was ousted from the Oval Office by Democratic presidential opponent Joe Biden, Trump tweeted:

“In certain swing states, there were more votes than people who voted, and in big numbers. Does that not really matter? Stopping Poll Watchers, voting for unsuspecting people, fake ballots and so much more. Such egregious conduct. We will win!”

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 23, 2020

Trump managed to beat the hat trick with this tweet. He spewed all the by now standard talking points, hit notes, and flat-out lies that he and the GOP relentlessly peddled about alleged voting fraud. There were more votes than voters. There were poll watchers who suddenly vanished and were unable to catch the alleged cheaters. There were phantom, dummy, and paid voters who stuffed the ballot boxes.

The jewel in the crown of Trump/GOP vote fraud lies was this: There were loads of fake ballots. Who did Trump think gamed the system so shamelessly and blatantly to steal the election from him? Who else, but the Democrats? Trump’s phony vote fraud claim was in effect the official marching order for packs of GOP governors, GOP controlled state legislators, GOP house reps and senators, legions of GOP political action groups, conservative talking heads, and bloggers in the states and nationally to go on the attack.

The attack culminated in the January 6, 2021, Capitol Building assault that claimed lives, sent legislators scurrying in fear for their lives, and caused tens of thousands of dollars in property damage to the Capitol Building.

Former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made the vote fraud lie quasi-official when he like Trump wasted no time in cheerleading Trump’s bogus claim that Trump was still President. In a speech on the Senate floor, November 6, 2020, McConnell egged Trump on in pushing his fraudulent claim that he was cheated out of the Oval Office. He harped that Trump was “100 percent within his rights” to scream that there were “irregularities” in the voting.

McConnell eventually and very grudgingly conceded that Biden did indeed win the presidency. That didn’t end the little GOP vote fraud charade. McConnell made clear that he would do everything he could to rein in, maybe sabotage was the more accurate term, Biden’s legislative initiatives.

The Trump/GOP phony canard of vote fraud, in truth, was a rehash of the same warmed-over attacks that the GOP had ruthlessly made for two decades since the Bush-Gore presidential debacle in 2000. That was to bend, twist, manipulate, massage, and out and out scrap legal voting rights laws and standards in the states.

Within months, the GOP governors and GOP-controlled legislators outdid themselves. They proposed and tried to ram through dozens of vote restriction laws. The proposals were the by now usual assorted stuff of everything from airtight voter IDs to closing polling places in predominantly minority neighborhoods.

The GOP-dominated states weren’t the only ones who got into the vote suppression act. There was much evidence that some major corporations and business interests kicked in more than a few dollars to bankroll the GOP vote suppression campaign. The Democrats at every turn, and with each new GOP ploy, screamed foul They filed, and threatened, lawsuits in several states, staged legislative walkouts in states such as Texas and Wisconsin, and proposed HR 1. The House passed bill was fittingly named as a deliberate “take that” to the GOP, “For the People Act.”

The bill will impose uniform standards on federal voting, automatic voter registration, allow two weeks of early voting, make it harder to boot voters from the voter rolls, and most telling, it will give felons the right to vote across the board. The House passed the bill in March 2021. To no surprise, not one Republican House member backed the bill. GOP senators quickly followed suit and declared war on the bill the moment it was introduced in the Senate.

The unmistakable message from the GOP vote repression shenanigans was don’t even think about such a bill having a ghost of a chance to get any GOP support. McConnell frothed on Fox News that the bill was tantamount to a federal power grab of elections. He wasn’t finished. In a follow-up tweet, on March 24, he was even blunter, “Democrats’ H.R. 1 would leave elections more vulnerable to cheating, send taxpayer dollars to subsidize campaigns, and would turn the bipartisan Federal Election Commission into a Democrat-controlled partisan body. It’s not about protecting voting. It’s about rigging the system.”

The two-decade plus GOP assault on universal, free, and open-ended voting for all in America is a deadly game of more than just one party’s mean-spirited effort to squeeze maximum political gain for itself out of the voting process. It is a brutal, frontal, assault on the spirit and meaning of the democratic voting process. It is a radical realteration of the established premise of voting in a democratic society–the hallowed rule of one person, one vote. It is in every sense a war on the American voting rights system and process.

This is the first in a four-part series on the GOP’s War on Voting Rights. The series is based on my forthcoming book, Bring Back the Poll Tax! -The GOP’s War on Voting Rights (Middle Passage Press). It will be officially released on August 6, 2021, the 56th anniversary of LBJ’s signing of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.


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