I'm pretty sure U.S. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Allwhite, doesn't keep a white sheet and hood in the trunk of his car. But in this wonderfully modern world, racism has gone high-tech. Spreadsheets have replaced white sheets.
Westmoreland has a knack for not knowing things. He's become the butt of Internet jokes recently for his profound ignorance. After he ardently championed planting the Ten Commandments in government buildings, Comedy Central's Steve Colbert asked him to list the Mosaic missives. Westmoreland couldn't come close.
Displaying another between-the-ears void, Westmoreland has championed "negotiations" on the federal Voting Rights Act, which is up for renewal. His ploy derailed, at least temporarily, passage of the act's extension. Interpreted: He wants to kill the landmark bill that struck down the South's Jim Crow laws.
Westmoreland (and U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Dixiecrat) says times have changed, and there's no longer any need for federal review of voting practices in seven states, including Georgia, and parts of four others.
Westmoreland insists he's unaware of any election racism nowadays -- that's the ignorance I'm talking about. It's almost inconceivable that he doesn't know about the comments of state Rep. Sue Burmeister, R-DooDahDooDah, who authored the state's voter photo ID bill in 2005. According to Justice Department lawyers, Burmeister eloquently articulated the GOP philosophy on race reconciliation in discussions with them, proclaiming that if blacks "are not paid to vote, they don't go to the polls."
The department's staff attorneys turned thumbs down on Burmeister's law. They were overruled by Bush's political commissars.
As veteran Civil Rights warrior Congressman John Lewis, D-Weneedmorelikehim, noted of Westmoreland's antagonism toward reality, Justice Department lawyers have challenged more than 1,000 election law changes, including 80 in Georgia, since the Voting Rights Act was last extended in 1982.
The reality is that Westmoreland wants to deep-six the election law. Why? Disenfranchising black, brown and poor voters is a linchpin of GOP election strategy.
But, it's much scarier than just that.
There's a link between the Georgia voter ID statute and Westmoreland's assault on the federal election law. "It is not incidental that the same body -- the Republican Party of Georgia -- that is so insistent on over-broad voter identification procedures is also actively supporting at this very moment measures that would weaken [the Voting Rights Act]," Atlanta civil rights attorney Janice Mathis wrote Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, R-Tortureisfine, last month. Mathis contends the photo ID requirement endangers the voting rights of 800,000 Georgians. Gov. Sonny Perdue's estimate is 350,000. Whatever the number, everyone agrees those most affected are poor, black or elderly voters.
Aside from a big ol' wink at Georgia's unreconstructed racists, Westmoreland's scheme likely has a far more sinister purpose.
Investigative author Greg Palast, who reports for the BBC, was at Manuel's Tavern last month touting his latest book, Armed Madhouse, a wonderful description of the Bush administration. Palast had managed to infiltrate GOP e-mail networks, and had obtained spreadsheets detailing what the party calls "caging" lists. "Caging," as in putting black voters in a cage.
When Palast took the lists to Republican officials, they at first tried to explain that they were for potential donors. Palast then pointed to the names of residents at a homeless shelter in Florida.
The ugly pattern became clear when Palast found caging lists of black military personnel -- folks deployed to places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Palast produced one list gleaned from Republican sources that listed sailors at the Jacksonville, Fla., Naval Air Station. The GOP sent first-class letters to the servicemen marked "do not forward." The letters would be returned -- as with similar letters sent to hundreds of other people on lists that targeted blacks -- and GOP lawyers would wait at the polls to challenge the voters. The ostensible reason was that the voters weren't at the address they'd given. For the black soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, that's understandable -- they're overseas fighting.
"Yep," said Palast, "the Republicans support our men and women in uniform. They support them getting killed in Iraq. But they don't support them when they want to vote. What hypocrisy."
In 2004, caging challenges contributed to the 3.1 million Americans who were forced to vote "provisional" ballots, according to Palast's state-by-state review of election reports. Almost 1.1 million of those ballots were rejected. (The Pew Charitable Trusts and Electionline.org, citing no standard for comparing provisional ballots, reported 1.6 million were cast in 2004, with about one-third being rejected.)
A million votes in the trash can, many if not almost all of them valid and legitimate. In the decisive Ohio vote in 2004, 103,660 ballots were "spoiled," 33,998 were rejected provisional ballots, 15,519 absentee ballots weren't counted and thousands of people weren't allowed to vote (almost entirely in poor and minority neighborhoods) because of voting machine shortages. Ohio's election chief, Ken Blackwell, was also the campaign co-chairman for Bush-Cheney.
Back to Westmoreland. Under the Voting Rights Act, it's a felony to deny ballot access to a group based on race or ethnicity. The Republicans have been caught doing such dastardly deeds many times. In the 1960s, the GOP carted out "Operation Eagle Eye" to menace Hispanic voters in Arizona. In 1981, the party got busted for creating caging lists of 45,000 black voters in New Jersey -- and the Republican National Party signed a consent order promising not to repeat such antics. (Palast notes that one GOP excuse for the current caging lists is that the national party isn't involved, only state parties.)
"If you get rid of the Voting Rights Act," Palast says, "then you can't indict the Republican lawbreakers." He's mostly right. Other laws, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, could probably be used to chase the pin-striped GOP lawyers with their purge lists. Of course, under this administration, which asserts it is bound by no constitutional restraint, we're not going to see serious investigation of attempts to deny voting rights.
"Sure, they're going to try to steal the next elections," Palast says. "We can't hand it to them. Make them steal it."
Early voting takes place next week, July 10-14; call 404-730-4000 in Fulton County, or 404-298-4020 in DeKalb to find out where. On July 18, regular polling places are open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. To vote this year, you must present: a Georgia driver's license; an ID issued by the state; a U.S. passport; an employee ID from any federal, state or local government; a U.S. military ID; or a tribal photo ID. If you aren't registered to vote, you can still register for the general election, as long as you do so by Oct. 10.
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