The Electoral Integrity Project, an independent project based at Harvard University, assesses whether elections meet international standards of electoral integrity. According to the group, U.S. elections rank last among those of other Western democracies.
By the time that startling fact appears towards the end of All In: The Fight for Democracy, we are understandably outraged by what has been done in our country – not just in the past, but also more recently – to prevent citizens from casting their votes in elections. If ever there was a time to place this issue front and center, that time is now with a presidential election a little more than a month away.
Stacey Abrams has firsthand knowledge of voter suppression after losing the race for governor of Georgia in an election that made it difficult, if not impossible, for many citizens to vote and, after the polls closed, for many ballots to be counted. Abrams never conceded to Brian Kemp, who declared victory that evening. As Georgia’s secretary of state, Kemp oversaw the election and succeeded in closing 214 polling places, many of them in Black neighborhoods, something that, no doubt, impacted totals for Abrams.
Abrams has made fighting for voting rights her passion. Besides founding Fair Fight Action, an organization to address voter suppression, she serves as producer for All In, and is frequently on camera talking about her own story.
Born in Madison, Wisconsin, and raised in Gulfport, Mississippi the second of six siblings, Stacey moved with her family to Atlanta, Georgia. Her parents earned graduate degrees and became Methodist ministers. The family’s life, she says, consisted of “church, school, and taking care of each other.”
Her first serious encounter with racism occurred when, as valedictorian of her high school class, she and her parents were invited to the governor’s mansion for a celebration. They were stopped by a guard who, seeing they were Black, told them “you don’t belong here.” Years later, Stacey would run a campaign to live in that mansion.
While Black males were given the right to vote in the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution, that path to equality has never been easy. During the Jim Crow era, Blacks were routinely threatened and many lynched to prevent them from voting.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson to prohibit racial discrimination in voting. The law was amended five times by Congress to expand its protections. But voting rights sustained a serious blow in 2013 when the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder ruled that a section of the law, which extended the coverage period, was declared unconstitutional. Was it a coincidence that President Barack Obama’s election had brought 15 million new voters to the polls?
In the film, Eric Holder, Obama’s Attorney General, noted that the Supreme Court decision was a serious setback to the Voting Rights Act. States, many of them in the South, began to put in place rules that served, once again, to suppress the vote. Measures included a requirement for voters to present a government issued ID card in order to vote. An estimated 21 million people, ten percent of the electorate, do not possess such cards. In North Dakota, voters needed to have a physical address. Since many Native Americas often have only a P.O. Box address, they were prohibited from voting. In Ohio, voters were knocked off the voter lists if they hadn’t voted for six years or didn’t respond to a post card asking them to register. The post card, the film notes, looked like junk mail. In Wisconsin, 23,000 voters were declared ineligible to vote. Keep in mind that Donald J. Trump won that state with just under 23,000 votes.
Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios