Hillary Builds 2016 Campaign on Racial Politics

Hillary Clinton has worked her way back in the news by making racially-charged remarks to the American Bar Association’s annual meeting in San Francisco. There is, she claimed, an ongoing “assault on voting rights.”  But the only “assault” going on is a liberal assault on the truth about efforts to protect the integrity of our election process.

Clinton’s polemic claims fit nicely within a calculated political strategy adopted late last year. At a December meeting in Washington, D.C., three dozen of the most powerful liberal advocacy groups providing money and manpower for Democratic candidates hammered out three agreed-upon objectives for this election cycle. One of them was to fight all election integrity efforts like voter ID. 

In San Francisco, Clinton criticized the Supreme Court’s recent decision striking down the coverage formula of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, claiming “citizens will be disenfranchised” and “victimized” as a result. She neglected to mention that Section 5 was a temporary provision passed in 1965 that was supposed to expire after five years. It required nine states and parts of six others to get federal approval prior to implementing any voting change, putting them into the equivalent of federal receivership. Focusing on the huge disparity between black and white voters, coverage under Section 5 was based on low registration and turnout in the 1964 elections, as well as subsequent elections in 1968 and 1972.

Section 5 was an extraordinary intrusion into state sovereignty. It was justified at the time because of widespread, systematic discrimination against black voters and the well-documented attempts by states to evade federal court decrees. But as the Supreme Court recognized this year, that type of extensive, official discrimination has long since disappeared. 

When Congress renewed Section 5 for the fourth time in 2006, it did not update the 40-year-old coverage formula to reflect current conditions. If it had, not a single state would have remained covered under Section 5.

In fact, black voters in the former Section 5 states vote at higher rates than black voters in other parts of the country and often at higher rates than white voters in some of the formerly-covered jurisdictions. The Census Bureau says blacks voted at a higher rate than whites nationally in 2012 by more than two percentage points, which refutes Clinton’s claim that extensive racial discrimination in voting still exists. 

If Hillary Clinton decides to run in 2016, perhaps she will explain to residents and elected officials (many of whom are black) in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia – as well as officials in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan and a number of counties in other states – why she believes that they are still so racist that they cannot be trusted to run their own elections.  She might also explain why she believes they are intent on reviving the “old demons of discrimination,” as she put it in San Francisco. She apparently views parts of America through a distorted prism made in 1965—one that, fortunately, does not reflect our country as it is today.

In reality, Section 5 has been used for decades to mandate noncompetitive, racially gerrymandered, apartheid-type legislative districts. This is the exact opposite of what the civil rights movement was all about. 

Clinton’s claim that new legislation is needed is wrong. The permanent provisions of the Voting Rights Act like Section 2, which bans racial discrimination nationwide, provide strong and effective tools to combat voting discrimination in those rare instances when it does occur. 

Clinton was also completely off-base in asserting that efforts to improve the security of elections such as requiring a voter ID are intended to “make it harder for millions of our fellow Americans to vote,” especially minority voters.  The turnout of minority (and other) voters in Georgia, Indiana and other states with voter ID laws proves that these commonsense laws have no repressive effects. 

Photo ID was required to get into the Democrat Party’s political convention in 2012, yet Ms. Clinton did not malign the requirement as “delegate suppression.”  Similarly, fabulously liberal New York City requires couples applying for a wedding license to present valid photo identification.  Yet Ms. Clinton has managed to remain silent about such blatant “marriage suppression,” even though it’s happening right in her hometown.

Rhetoric equating voter ID laws with voter suppression rings false in the ears of most Americans. Polls consistently show an overwhelming majority of voters of all racial backgrounds support this common sense election reform.

Ms. Clinton says that how we “protect our freedoms here at home gives us the right to be a moral leader globally.”  Since almost all other democracies require voters to show a photo ID, the best way to be a “moral leader” in this instance is for the U.S. to join the rest of the world.

The former senator and secretary of state tried to explain away the popularity of the laws by claiming that people have been misled by stories of a “phantom epidemic of election fraud.”  No one claims that voter fraud is epidemic, but it is certainly a very real problem with a long history.  As former Associate Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a liberal stalwart on the Court, noted when he wrote the opinion upholding Indiana’s photo ID law in 2008, “flagrant examples of such fraud…have been documented throughout this Nation’s history by respected historians and journalists.” 

As John Fund and I illustrated in a 2012 book on election fraud, this is not ancient history as Clinton herself should know.  After all, it was only recently that four political operatives were convicted of forging many of the voter signatures on the ballot petitions that got her qualified for the 2008 primary ballot in Indiana.

Many states are engaging in a laudable effort to improve the integrity of our election process by ensuring accurate registration rolls undistorted by noncitizens, the dead, and other ineligible voters.  They are trying to implement basic standards of security for voting—standards that are no different from those applied to citizens who want to cash a check, buy a beer, get into federal buildings, apply for government benefits, or board an airplane to fly to Washington, D.C. to complain about the latest absurdity emanating from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and sometimes San Francisco.

Hans A. von Spakovsky is a Senior Legal Fellow at The Heritage Foundation and a former FEC commissioner and Justice Department lawyer.  He is the coauthor with John Fund of “Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk (Encounter Books 2012).”


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