Ever since this country was founded, access to the ballot has been intentionally restricted in order to keep people of color from voting. From North Carolina to Texas and Georgia, politicians are trying every trick in the book to stay in power.
Rarely, however, does the attack on voting rights become as starkly illustrative of the struggle for the right to vote as it is in Missouri. Politicians trying to disenfranchise voters of color in the state have gamed the legislative process and put the electorate in a most unusual position. Through Amendment 6, a ballot measure on the November ballot, Missourians will be asked to actually decide whether they want to amend the constitution to undercut their own right to vote so that politicians can impose a strict voter-ID requirement on them.
If the amendment succeeds, a familiar effect will take hold: African Americans will be disproportionately impacted. Simply put, Amendment 6 would make it harder for black people to vote. Over 220,000 already registered voters do not have the required ID.
The African-American community would not be alone in bearing the impact of this disenfranchisement. The proposed constitutional change would also lead to massive voting problems for seniors, people with disabilities, students, women and veterans. Our democracy has become more inclusive and more just when the right to vote was strengthened. Why is this amendment trying to weaken the right to vote? It’s partisanship and politics of cynicism, building on a centuries-old legacy of institutionalized racism, that drives politicians to say and do anything to keep some people from voting.
Too many politicians today have taken up the shameful legacy of impeding black people from voting freely and in large numbers at the ballot box. When freed slaves won the right to vote, politicians in the former slave states immediately started passing Jim Crow laws like literacy tests and poll taxes to keep democracy and power away from people of color.
Missouri, where the tragic farce of the Dred Scott decision played out, was at the heart of the effort to uphold white supremacy. This was the state where slavery was extended through the Missouri Compromise.
As the ongoing fight for basic tenets of democracy tells us, the fight for equality that began with rebellions led by enslaved people and with resistance against colonization never really ended—people of color have been fighting the same fight ever since. Just as our parents or grandparents rose up and defeated Jim Crow, a new generation must face institutional racism that is threatening our power at the ballot box.
Voting alone does not undo centuries of white supremacy. But Missouri politicians are literally trying to take away the right to vote from the Missouri Constitution. They want to manipulate the game so that less of us can vote, plain and simple.
In an era where our liberation requires we use every tool in our toolbox, losing the right to vote is not an option. As Malcolm X said, the ballot is a bullet, and you don’t waste bullets in war.
The last several months have seen the movement for voting rights score important victories. Not only are we pushing back against voter-suppression efforts like that of North Carolina, but the courts are increasingly agreeing with us that these efforts are intentionally discriminatory.
When striking down North Carolina’s monster voter-suppression law, a case Advancement Project brought, the court wrote that “because of race, the Legislature enacted one of the largest restrictions of the franchise in modern North Carolina history.”
That the court explicitly ruled that the law was designed to deliberately harm African-American voters was an important legal victory for the movement and for truth-telling.
This November, we the people must use our voice to protect our voice in our American democracy. We've been lifting our voices in the streets; we can't let some politicians silence us in the voting booth.
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Make sure you protect your vote in this critical election for America. Learn more about how to register and protect your vote here.