Depending on where you stand in America right now, I saw either one of the most encouraging or one of the most dangerous sights in this country recently on my local television stations and in this newspaper.
What I saw also gave me pause because of who I did not see in those news stories. That has me concerned, but maybe it’s too soon to pass judgment.
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The stories I'm referring to involved a group of older African-Americans getting on buses that were taking them to polling locations in East Baton Rouge Parish for voting ahead of the Nov. 6 election. It was all part the Souls to the Polls effort by predominantly African-American churches across the South to encourage minority voter participation.
Efforts like Souls to the Polls are part of the history of the African-American community. Similar programs were born during the days of beatings and killings when blacks simply had the notion to register to vote in South. Around the country, Republican and far right-leaning groups have stepped up voter suppression efforts aimed at African-American and minority voters.
For the most part, they are the same crowd that howled that former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other players were unpatriotic when they took a knee during the playing of the national anthem. The players were actually protesting widespread police brutality and injustices that African-Americans and other minorities were facing.
Critics didn’t want to address that serious argument. Led by President “My bones spurs kept me from being a military patriot” Trump, they turned to the un-American tune.
But isn’t it un-American to intentionally place barriers for certain groups of Americans to vote?
Here’s just some of the quash-the-black vote efforts happening now:
A county clerk in Georgia recently got so concerned about a bus of older African-Americans on a bus headed to vote that he initially denied them access to vote. They were ordered off the bus, reportedly because of a Democratic party official on the bus.
After a storm of criticism, the older residents from an assisted living facility eventually were allowed to vote.
What difference does it make how people travel to the polls as long as they get there? Voting is the point of citizenship. What if they had come in a 30-vehicle caravan, would that have been better?
Also in Georgia, you have Secretary of State Brian Kemp running for governor against a black opponent. Get this: He will officially oversee the ballots in his own race. That stinks to high heaven. He will control the balls and strikes.
What stinks, even more, is that his office has backed out 53,000 registrants who are trying to register to vote, reportedly because their registration information didn’t perfectly match their actual information. Interestingly, the percentage of Georgians that are African-American is about 32 percent. The percentage of registrants in the pool of registrations that have been stalled by Kemp are 70 percent black.
After a public backlash, efforts are being made to get those persons certified to vote. But just wait. I don’t think you’ve heard the last black voter suppression effort from Kemp.
The Supreme Court ruled last week to uphold a lower court decision requiring North Dakota voters to bring proof of their residential address to the polls. Guess who that targeted? Many Native Americans, living on rural tribal lands, which are typically without named and numbered roads, do not have residential addresses. It has been OK for the Native Americans, who usually vote for the Democrat, to vote that way for years.
Some activists say the requirement amounts to an attempt by North Dakota Republicans to prevent the re-election of Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who won by a few thousand votes in 2012. Political watchers have suggested that the court decision could cost Heitkamp, a vocal supporter of Native American rights, the election.
Going back a bit, remember when Trump launched his much-ballyhooed voter fraud panel? After 11 months of looking for fraud, the group found nothing and disbanded. But let me get back to the something I haven’t seen that bothers me. Maybe it’s early on, so we may witness it soon. But I don’t see busloads of young African-Americans and minorities headed to the polls to vote early.
Maybe they have their own cars and are in line voting right now. Maybe they are flying under the radar. It would be great to see them in large numbers at polling places. That would be a great look. I really want to see them.
I would hate for them to suppress their own vote ... again.
Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at firstname.lastname@example.org.