On the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth, protecting the integrity of an electoral system that black Americans have struggled so hard to participate in is more important than ever. Here is what thought leaders and black Americans have to say about defending election integrity in America.
Curtis Hill: On Juneteenth, We Must Commit to Protecting the Integrity of Our Elections
Juneteenth this Saturday is another important chapter in the story of freedom‘s journey for black Americans. All Americans would benefit in learning more about this significant date as part of our collective history.
Celebrated sporadically after 1865, and then more broadly following the civil rights era of the 1960s and 70s, Juneteenth got its name from the blending of June and 19th, which was the date in 1865 when the Emancipation Proclamation was first announced by federal troops in Galveston, Texas.
Although the command was given a full two and a half years after Jan. 1, 1863—the day President Abraham Lincoln issued history’s most famous presidential executive order—it originally had no real effect upon the Southern slaveholding states at which it was directed. It would only begin to be enforced after the Confederacy’s surrender at the Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, 1865.
Texas, being the furthest west and most remote of the slaveholding Southern states, required more time to receive word about the end of the war and the enforced end of slavery.
Two and a half years “late” or not, the news delivered by Gen. Gordon Granger was cause for celebrating. The occasion was called Jubilee or Freedom Day—alternative names for Juneteenth—even as the border states of Kentucky and Delaware continued to permit slave ownership until ratification of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery in December 1865.
For a people who had been denied their freedom all of their lives, Juneteenth was no time for bitterness or ill will. Instead, it was a time for action.
These former uneducated slaves set about immediately to find lost family members, acquire property, and run for political office. And quite naturally, they set about to avail themselves of freedom’s best manifestation—the vote.
Almost overnight, former slaves who had been entirely restricted of equality were casting ballots for men who would govern them—only this time with their consent.
Juneteenth celebrates the symbolic beginnings of black participation in elections, which are the very foundation of a free society. As a result, scores of blacks were elected to political office, holding powerful positions of authority within their communities when just a few short years earlier they didn’t even hold citizenship.
Freedom was working so well, and blacks were rising in political influence so rapidly, that they became the target of political attack. The integrity of the election process was systematically impugned by nefarious elements in the South, who were determined to disrupt, diminish, and destroy the spirit of Juneteenth and independence for black Americans.
Jim Crow laws enforcing segregation of the races sprang up like cotton throughout the entire South. Elections were marred by murderous lynchings, burdensome and unfair poll taxes, and literacy tests applied only to blacks to keep them from exercising their vote—effectively stripping the new citizens of their freedom and returning them to a subservient status of “less than” and “inferior.”
Even in the North, where blacks arguably fared better than their counterparts in the South, blacks were routinely intimidated and often violently discouraged from participating in elections.
In 2021, we can celebrate how far we have finally come since that first Juneteenth.
At long last, after decades of abuse, struggle, protests, and court challenges, access to the polls by all of our citizens is limited only by one’s own initiative. With increased access to the polls, securing the integrity of elections is more important than ever in making certain that each and every citizen’s votes are protected and counted.
To that end, we need elections where it is easy to vote and hard to cheat.
So is Juneteenth really necessary?
Consider the stirring speech delivered in 1852 by the iconic abolitionist and former slave Fredrick Douglass—also one of the most universally gifted men of the 19th century—entitled, “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro.”
Douglass dramatically described the irony of Americans celebrating the meritorious fight for independence from Great Britain, which rang hollow to blacks still in bondage. For them, the Fourth of July was no reason to celebrate freedom from tyranny.
Douglass’s speech surely anticipated a distinctive celebration that would underscore the particular achievement of freedom from slavery in the years to come.
With the achievement of equality under the law, one might argue that Juneteenth now should give way to the traditional July Fourth celebration as part of the harmonizing of black history with the rest of America’s.
Without question, after all, black Americans have spilled enough blood and endured enough hardships for this nation that qualify us to observe the July Fourth celebratory festivities as much as any other demographic group—and arguably more than most. But we should keep Juneteenth as an important part of our collective American heritage.
Now, more than 150 years after the first Juneteenth, after decades of protracted struggle for freedom, black Americans have enjoyed the opportunity and the safeguards of electoral participation. We must now protect the integrity of the electoral process for everyone who votes.
This Juneteenth, Americans of all stripes should use the occasion to reflect—among other parts of our shared history—on the need to protect our nation’s election integrity in order to make voting meaningful and secure for all Americans.
Katrina Pierson: Black Americans Understand Real Voter Suppression. That Is Why We Must Safeguard Our Election System.
As we head into the 156th anniversary of Juneteenth, America is engaged in a huge battle over election integrity and voting rights, with black Americans caught in the middle. We’re being told by Democrats that common-sense steps to ensure the integrity of our elections are methods of “voter suppression” and comparable to Jim Crow laws. Is this true, or is this another case of race-baiting by Democrats?
When it comes to Jim Crow laws and suppressing the vote of black Americans, Democrats certainly do know what they’re talking about. From the very beginning, and throughout its entire history, Jim Crow was a project invented, planned, and implemented by Democrats to suppress black Americans and their right to vote. Voter suppression was evil, and Americans are right to be horrified by the history of Jim Crow.
Those who know their history, however, know that suppression of the black vote was only part of the equation in the Democrat-run South. The practice of “ballot-stuffing” was also a common tactic in the Jim Crow South.
Think about it this way: suppose, in one election, 100 black voters are prevented from casting their ballots. In a different election, all 100 black voters are allowed to cast ballots, but the ballot box is stuffed with 150 fake ballots for a particular candidate, such that the ballots of the black voters don’t affect the outcome of the election. In both cases, the votes of the black voters were irrelevant.
Should we feel better that we get to cast a ballot, even if it doesn’t count?
We certainly need to do everything we can to ensure that every eligible voter can cast a ballot. There is no debate on that. But we also need to do what we can to ensure that the ballots going into the box are legitimate ballots cast by eligible voters.
Thankfully, an overwhelming majority of black Americans support common-sense efforts to improve election integrity, including voter ID requirements. According to a poll conducted by Rasmussen in March, 69% of black Americans say voters should be required to show photo identification before being allowed to vote. This is not surprising. It’s common sense.
In a Gallup World poll conducted in April and May 2019, only 40% of Americans said they had confidence in the honesty of American elections, and 59% did not. The distrust in our elections was highest among women, urban voters, and Gen Xers. Our low confidence in elections places us near the bottom of countries, sandwiched between Hungary and Lithuania.
In another Gallup poll conducted in the last half of September, 2020, only 19% of Americans—less than 1 in 5—said they were “very confident” that votes in the 2020 presidential election would be accurately cast and counted. Another 40% were “somewhat confident.”
In the same poll, 54% of independents told Gallup that people using illegal or fraudulent means to cast votes is a major problem. Nearly a third of Democrats agreed. Forty-two percent of independents said that votes cast by ineligible voters is a major problem. Nearly 1 in 4 Democrats agreed.
Clearly, concern for election integrity is not confined to any single political group or party, or to any demographic group. The American people no longer have a high level of trust that the election outcomes reported by our elections officials accurately reflect the votes cast by eligible voters—and this is a very serious problem.
The major media response to this crisis is to deny that there is a problem. They like to claim that election fraud is very rare. Unfortunately for them—and for us—every election brings more and more evidence that our election systems are not secure.
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens concluded in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board that “flagrant examples of [voter] fraud … have been documented throughout this Nation’s history by respected historians and journalists.” Stevens went on to explain that the available evidence demonstrates that, “not only is the risk of voter fraud real but that it could affect the outcome of a close election.”
It can be difficult to get a firm grasp on the full scope of election fraud, but we do know it occurs. The Heritage Foundation has compiled a database documenting 1,328 proven instances of voter fraud, of which 1,143 resulted in criminal convictions.
The election fraud that is uncovered, documented, and prosecuted represents only a portion of the election fraud that occurs.
Election fraud occurs, and that it undermines confidence in our entire political system. If we are to maintain our system of self-determination, it is vital that we do everything we can to restore confidence in American elections.
Rev. Dean Nelson: ‘One Person One Vote’ Is Under Attack. It’s Time To Protect It.
Give us the ballot, and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights … Give us the ballot—and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who will, who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the Divine.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered this speech at the Prayer Pilgrimage March on May 17, 1957, in Washington, D.C. Fast forward 64 years later, days before the federal government is set to officially recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday, the “one person one vote principle” of American government and political representation is threatened. This time, the insidious offenders of this basic right are using the narrative of the hard-fought civil and voting rights in the ‘50s and ‘60s as a pretext to suppress votes they disagree with.
If unchecked, the proponents of congressional election overhaul will enact legislation that seizes authority from the states and places the federal government in complete control of election rules. They want to destroy the integrity of elections by banning states’ basic voter ID requirements while demanding online voter registration (a cybercriminal’s dream) in all states.
If that isn’t troubling enough, they want to automatically register all individuals over the age of 16 while also registering convicted felons. Despite our long history of election fraud where minority voters were often the victim, these proposed laws mandate no-fault absentee ballots and allow ballot harvesting. By ignoring cyberthreats and lack of verification, they are attempting to force states to provide ballots to registered voters by email.
This complete transformation—corrosion—of voting rights is as outrageous as it sounds. But anyone who reacts to these dangerous changes or opposes them at the polls by questioning the eligibility of a potentially fraudulent voter is threatened with up to five years in jail and up to a $100,000 fine.
These changes are all found in HR 1, the deceitfully named For the People Act, which has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s charging through the Senate with a commitment from President Joe Biden to sign it and throw out basic election safeguards implemented by the states to protect voters.
On its tails is an equally threatening bill, HR 4, called The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. This act did not bear the name of the civil rights icon during his life. It was added to deter and shame those who would oppose its alarming provisions. It would give federal bureaucrats the ability to veto many election rules and laws lawfully enacted by state legislatures and voters through state referendums to safeguard the integrity of a vote.
It would take away the ability of the voters of each state to safeguard the voting and election process and ensure that members of all races have an equal and fair say in the political process.
And this has already played out during the 2020 presidential election. This last November, Jonathan Alexandre, senior counsel of government affairs of the Liberty Counsel and general counsel of the Frederick Douglas Foundation, was dispatched by the Trump Verification Legal Team to Philadelphia to exercise a basic voting safeguard that laws like these now seek to prevent.
Alexandre, an African American, needed a police escort led by another African American police officer through a protesting crowd to the Pennsylvania Convention Center in the Center City neighborhood of Philadelphia to watch the counting and tabulation of ballots suspected of being fraudulent. Yet he, like every lawyer from the Trump Verification Legal Team, was denied wholesale any access to the watching and counting of ballots—a right that is specifically found in Pennsylvania voting statutes.
Transparency is essential to ensure that fraud is not occurring and that voters have access to the polls and the ballot box. Yet, it was clear that the Democratic lawyers were not being kept out in the same manner.
The African American officer, who never expressed his voting preference, recognized the unfair treatment of the Trump attorney and told Alexandre to stick around and keep pressing for access to the voting site. He even encouraged Alexandre to take a hidden escalator to circumvent the Democrat-run apparatus keeping Alexandre away from observing the vote tally.
This is just one experience of many that week in counties across Pennsylvania where Republican and Trump campaign legal teams were not able to view what was occurring, denying them the same fundamental right we exercise when our own State Department sends observer teams to fledgling democracies all over the world.
If bills like HR 1 and HR 4 continue to make their way through Congress, our system of elections, which was revealed six months ago as being in a precarious position, will cease to have any meaningful accountability and trustworthiness. This will erode decades of progress made to ensure that the one person, one vote principle of our constitutional republic is preserved.
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