The Republicans Are Totally Trying To Suppress Your Vote, Part 2: The Dirty Half Dozen

Note: This story originally appeared on my blog on February 17, 2017.

Last week, the Committee of House Administration (CHA) voted to eliminate the Elections Assistance Commission. The 6–3 vote went along party lines with every Republican voting to jettison the committee which among other things, was tasked with the responsibility of investigating the possibility of Russian hacking in the 2016 election.

Exactly what is the Elections Assistance Commission? For that matter, what is the CHA? The CHA was established in the late 1940’s in order to streamline and consolidate the various House committees which often had overlapping responsibilities. The current CHA oversees federal elections and manages the day-to-day functions of the House of Representatives which means that CHA performs tasks as varied as assigning ID cards and parking spaces to new members of Congress to coordinating with Capitol Police to maintain security on Capitol Hill to monitoring federal elections.

That’s why the Elections Assistance Commission fell under CHA’s purview. The Elections Assistance Commission was established in 2002, the disastrous Election of 2000 still fresh in the minds of the American people. The EAC dispersed billions of dollars to the states to upgrade their voting machines. The EAC certified voting machines and, despite the fact that it rolled over on the voter ID issue, successfully squashed GOP efforts to have proof-of-citizenship questions added to voter registration forms.

Exactly who sits on the Committee of House Administration? Three Democrats and six Republicans — committee chair, Gregg Harper of Mississippi, Barbara Comstock of Virginia, Rodney Davis of Illinois, Mark Walker of North Carolina, Adrian Smith of Nebraska, and Barry Loudermilk of Georgia. A quick review of the “dirty half dozen’s” voting records turns up all the requisite Tea Party votes — anti-Obamacare, anti-choice, transphobic, etc.

Five of the committee members represent states with some type of a voter ID law. Nebraska, the sole exception, killed a proposed voter ID law in 2015 but still requires ID from first time voters when they register.

Two of the members represent states that were hotly contested swing states in the 2016 election. In fact, Barbara Comstock just barely kept her seat in a 2016 re-election bid.

And committee chair Gregg Harper represents the state of Mississippi, a state with a long history of racialized violence. After the Civil War, Mississippi passed some of the most restrictive “black codes” in the South, laws that harshly punished “crimes” like vagrancy and not being able to furnish proof of employment. Mississippi has the dubious distinction of being the site of the most lynchings in the US. White supremacist terrorist organizations like the Red Shirts and the White Citizens’ Council were founded in Mississippi. Both organizations terrorized African-Americans who attempted to vote; in the 1950’s and1960’s, only five percent of eligible black voters were registered in Mississippi.

In 1918, weeks after the end of World War I, four young blacks — two of them pregnant women — were hung in Clark County from what was called the Hanging Bridge. Fourteen-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in Money, Mississippi after being falsely accused of sexually harassing a white woman in 1955. From 1956 to 1977, the Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission used a host of illegal tactics to interfere with the work of civil rights organizations. In the fall of 1962, riots broke out on the campus of “Ole Miss” when James Meredith registered as a student in the law school. Medgar Evers was assasinated in his front yard in Jackson in 1963. Just a year later in Neshoba County, three young civil rights workers who had been working to register blacks to vote were murdered, their bodies disposed of at a dam.

And racially determined inequality is still a major problem in the state. While Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the country, blacks in Mississippi suffer from substantially higher rates of poverty than whites. Mississippi has some of the highest incarceration rates in the country; most prison inmates are black. Public schools are almost completely segregated.

Is it possible that Gregg Harper, along with the other Republican members, is simply trying to maintain white male hegemony in government? After all, demographic changes within the American electorate no longer favor conservative Republicans. Because public opinion and the rule of law no longer allow for violent voter intimidation, passing laws to keep minorities and other likely Democrat voters away from the polls is the GOP’s only hope for maintaining its power.

That’s why it is vital for the American people to remain vigilant for any signs that the CHA is trying to replicate their individual states’ success with voter suppression on a national level. While it is too late to stop the CHA’s vote to eliminate the EAC, the EAC will not be scuttled until the entire House votes on the initiative. It is imperative that we IMMEDIATELY contact their rep. It is also important that we set aside a few extra minutes to contact the Committee of House Administration [202–225–8281 (T) or 202–225–9957 (F)] and its chair, Gregg Harper [202–225–5031]. Harper and the other Republican committee members are taking it for granted that they can dismantle fair elections piece by piece without being noticed. We are obligated to tell them otherwise.