Lena Mitchell

LENA MITCHELL

The passing last week of Congressman Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, has been noted as a significant loss in the fight for voting rights for all eligible voters.

On the day of his death, Congress held two already-scheduled hearings on the Voting Rights Act and voter suppression.

In fact, the House Oversight Committee which Cummings chaired was in the process of investigating cases of alleged voter suppression in 2018 elections in Georgia and Texas.

Prior to the November 2018 election, Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, then secretary of state as well as candidate for governor, purged the state’s voter rolls and removed about 600,000 registered voters. He also held up registrations for more than 50,000 other voters – largely African Americans who often vote for Democrats – until after the election.

Kemp also closed more than 200 polling places, a tactic that Texas and several other states also were noted for using in 2018 voter suppression efforts.

Kemp’s electoral victory was by a margin of only about 55,000 votes, so his voter suppression activities paid off.

Cummings “argues that the right to vote was fundamental to American democracy and served as the cornerstone for all other rights,” a Vox News article noted.

Minority voters in Mississippi can certainly recognize the truth of that statement.

Without the 1964 Freedom Summer that registered large numbers of black voters, this state with the largest percentage minority population in the nation would never have had a chance of electing minorities to public office.

My father was born in 1906 and my mother in 1911 (only nine years before women won the right to vote under the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution).

I remember vividly from my childhood that leading up to each election day my parents would talk about their determination to confront the poll-watchers who would try to thwart them exercising their voting rights by demanding poll tax receipts and giving literacy tests. Those poll tax and literacy test requirements were not banned until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, only a few years before I became eligible to vote.

After the Civil War, when a number of black candidates were elected to Congress, states imposed new voter registration requirements to suppress minority votes, and those efforts were very successful. According to a Nov. 5, 2018 article in Forbes magazine, a change in Mississippi’s state constitution in 1890 reduced the number of black registered voters from 147,000 to 9,000, and a change in the Louisiana constitution in 1898 reduced the number of registered black voters from 130,000 to 5,000.

Perhaps people who believe everyone should embrace voter I.D. laws do not know this long history of ways to suppress minority voting, not only in Mississippi but in many states.

Minority groups have been victimized by those old laws and are now under attack with new methods.

Voter education and protecting voter rights remain priorities as we prepare for our state’s general election in less than two weeks.

LENA MITCHELL is a retired Daily Journal reporter who continues to write a regular column. Readers can contact her at lena.mitchell.dj@gmail.com.

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