Ferguson and Voter Suppression


I suspect St. Louis County, Missouri, has a voter suppression problem. When I say voter suppression, I include not only racially biased voting regulations, odd district creation, and schedules but also the work of an adept group of GOP activists who will throw out voter registrations under the guise of "voter fraud charges." They will also send overly-zealous vote challengers to monitor the polls, and they have supported a mysterious conservative organization that claimed to be a voting rights organization yet worked to decrease voting.

Voter suppression in Missouri should not be news to progressive political organizers. Nonetheless, it's crucial that people who plan to register people of color to vote in St. Louis County understand what they're really up against.

Most people who pay attention to politics know that Black voters tend to vote for Democratic Party candidates, and they may also know that the Republican party has been unhappy about voter registration drives in Black communities. GOP activists have admitted that much: They want to stop Democratic Party voters from getting to the polls. Therefore, is it possible that in St. Louis County elections the GOP has been more effective than the media cares to report?

I fully disclose here that in 2007 and 2008, I worked about six months as the
National Political Communications Coordinator of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Yes, that ACORN, the group that was stripped of its federal funding in 2009 and sent down in sludge. I was not working there, however, when it collapsed.

Always up for a scandal, journalists pounded out stories about the group's alleged crimes after a relatively unknown conservative operative released a libelous video showing what appeared to be impropriety. When a court ruled the operative had doctored the video footage, however, the stories were few.

ACORN, primarily an anti-poverty and social justice organization, indeed suffered some internal dysfunction, part of which persuaded me to leave, but I saw and heard nothing while there that indicated it deserved demolition. Nonetheless, as it actively registered poor, predominantly Black and Brown voters, it stayed near the top of GOP's hit list. For years, the party tried to have ACORN indicted on bogus "

During the 2008 election season, on my first day at ACORN, I fell into the fire working on an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the case of Crawford v. Marion County (Indiana), one of the earlier cases in the Right Wing's war on voting rights that involved a push for Voter ID laws. ACORN was one of many progressive groups submitting a brief as friend of the court.

Up I climbed the learning curve. While I had kept up with social justice issues, I had not been following the Republican Voter ID law campaign, its push to stop early voting in some areas, or its gerrymandering schemes. Through research, I soon understood that its campaign included smearing ACORN's vote registration work. Republicans in Kansas City and St. Louis seemed to work at this especially hard.

You may read some of the allegations against the non-profit's work in the city of St. Louis and see who threw the punches from 2006 onward. You may also read news coverage of an ACORN response. In addition, after ACORN went down, a 2010 article about "a few" incidents of "aggressive" Republicans challenging votes appeared in the St. Louis Beacon. And this article may interest you as well. In 2012, Republican leadership asked one of the same Republican election officials who smeared ACORN to help with elections in St. Louis County, which includes Ferguson.

But I don't have to go that far back. On Tuesday, while Ferguson protests continued, Missouri Republican Party executive director Matt Wills complained to conservative media site Brietbart News that it's wrong that Mike Brown organizers are registering Ferguson's Black citizens to vote. Brietbart's headline: "MISSOURI GOP: MICHAEL BROWN VOTING REGISTRATION BOOTHS 'DISGUSTING.'"

Wills, curiously, ties the voter registration effort to race while denying that anything that's happened in Ferguson is related to race: "Injecting race into this conversation and into this tragedy, not only is not helpful, but it doesn’t help a continued conversation of justice and peace."

Apparently, to Wills, it's impossible to work toward a better Ferguson and America with Black people if Black people also vote. Also, if it's not about race, then why does he care about Mike Brown protesters who are residents of Ferguson registering to vote? Isn't it good for all Americans to vote?

To be fair, the St.Louis Post-Dispatch reports that another Republican strongly disagrees with Wills's outburst.


In order to comment on BlogHer.com, you'll need to be logged in. You'll be given the option to log in or create an account when you publish your comment. If you do not log in or create an account, your comment will not be displayed.