Voting rights and the environment

Moderated by Rick Badie

Our lead columnist pays tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and says the landmark legislation has come under attack by states like Georgia that have adopted voter ID laws, likening them to minority voter suppression. The companion writer questions opponents of such laws and criticizes Republicans for not educating the public about their overwhelming support for early congressional passage of the VRA.

Voting rights vital to the environment

By Colleen Kiernan

On Friday, I marched 20 miles from Lilburn to Auburn as part of the NAACP America’s Journey for Justice. It’s an 864-mile march from Selma, Ala. to Washington, D.C., that began Aug. 1 and will enter the nation’s capital on Sept. 16.

The Sierra Club supports the effort because we know it takes everyone participating in our democracy to make sure our elected officials are making decisions in the best interest of us all. I was heartened by the support we received — honking, waving, fist-pumping — even as we slowed traffic on a busy Friday afternoon.

The march and its teach-ins, rallies and other events along the way aim to raise awareness of the injustices Americans still face in the 21st century, from environmental injustice to racial injustice. Marchers are calling on decision-makers for an improved national agenda that protects the right of every American to a fair criminal justice system, sustainable jobs with a living wage, equitable public education, and uncorrupted and unfettered access to the ballot box.

That last part — access to voting — is particularly significant, as August marks the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s signing into law of the Voting Rights Act. The act prohibits racial discrimination in voting.

In the last couple of years, that monumental law has come under attack. Some states have passed laws that prevent minority communities from voting.

When all Georgians have equal access to the ballot box, we have a much better chance at electing officials who care about cleaning up our state, protecting our families from pollution, and standing up and fighting against environmental threats like climate disruption. We must be able to elect people who truly value our health, jobs and communities, not just politicians who can buy elections with funds often coming from the big polluters that are also taking away our clean air and water.

The Georgia Sierra Club is focused on three priorities: clean energy, expanding transportation and protecting our national forests. Protecting our democracy is vital to achieve all of these.

If we are successful transitioning to a clean-energy economy based on solar, wind and energy efficiency, Georgians will spend a lot less of every paycheck on their power bills, and we will exponentially grow the state’s jobs in the clean-energy sector — jobs that already number 20,000, according to Southface’s Clean Energy Census report. If we are successful at expanding our transit network in metro Atlanta, more people will have more options and access to jobs, doctors, schools and shopping. And if we successfully protect our national forests, Georgians will be sure they have a place to recharge.

If any of our voices are silenced and our access to voting is interrupted, we don’t stand a chance to protect the environment for all Georgians.

Unfortunately in Georgia, access to the ballot box is not as easy and universal as it should be. In 2011, the state Legislature cut early voting days from 45 to 21 and eliminated voting the weekend before the election, preventing participation by voters who can’t easily access a polling location on Election Day. In 2014, nearly 40,000 new voters mysteriously vanished from the rolls and turnout was only 34 percent, down six points from 2010.

The Sierra Club will continue to support the NAACP this summer and beyond in its journey for justice, and we will act to protect and expand access to the ballot box and for a fair and equitable society for everyone. As Sierra Club founder John Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Colleen Kiernan is the Sierra Club’s Georgia chapter director.

Requiring voter IDs isn’t racist

By Conrad Quagliaroli

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. With it comes false charges leveled at Republicans of voter suppression through voter ID laws.

Those in leadership making the false charges know full well the history of the Voting Rights Act. Many of their followers do not and simply parrot what they are fed daily. Which is, that those proposing voter ID laws are racist. The critics don’t know that these “racists” are part of the same party that fought hard in the 1960s to get the Voting Rights Act passed.

PolitiFact reported that former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele was correct when he said in an interview with ABC’s Jake Tapper, “Our party has always had a strong view on this issue. … We fought very hard in the ’60s to get the civil rights bill passed as well as the voting rights bill.”

PolitiFact investigated Steele’s comments and reported, “The Civil Rights Act — which is best known for barring discrimination in public accommodations — passed the House in 1964 by a margin of 290-130. When broken down by party, 61 percent of Democratic lawmakers voted for the bill, and a full 80 percent of the Republicans voted for it. When the Senate passed the measure on June 19, 1964, the margin was 73-27. Senate Democrats supported the measure by 69 percent on final passage, but an even stronger 82 percent of Republicans supported it.

“When the Voting Rights Act came up in 1965, the vote results mirrored those of the Civil Rights Act. In the House, it passed by a 333-85 margin, with 78 percent of Democrats backing it and 82 percent of Republicans backing it. In the Senate, the measure passed by a 77-19 vote, with 73 percent of Democrats and 94 percent of Republicans supporting the bill.”

So much for the little-known history of the Voting Rights Act.

Republicans don’t get the credit they deserve for a number of reasons. First, their presidential candidate in 1964 was Barry Goldwater, and he was part of the minority of Republicans who opposed it. Next, it gets very little coverage in our history books. Lastly, the Republican leadership is too stupid to explain its positions and too cowardly to defend them, including this one.

As for Voter ID laws being racist, I’ve always been stunned Republicans are incapable of stating the obvious — that to call someone a racist if they insist that a voter produce a photo ID to vote is itself racist. The person saying it’s racist quite obviously believes minorities are not smart enough to figure out how to get a photo ID.

Photo IDs are a part of life these days. They’re easy to get, and almost everyone has one. There is nothing racist about a bank asking for it before cashing your check, a pharmacy requesting it before filling your prescription, and an airline asking for it before you board a plane. And no one thinks they’re racist for asking.

The photo ID racist charge is as silly as the one that Republicans want dirty air and water. Where do the critics think Republicans live, on Mars? Why would they want dirty air and water? And if everyone is required to produce a photo ID, how is that discrimination?

Here in Georgia, where we have photo ID laws for voting, the percentage of minority voters has increased since the laws were enacted. So much for the implied Democratic argument that minorities are too dumb to figure out how to get a photo ID and, therefore, voter ID laws suppress the vote for minorities.

Conrad Quagliaroli is chairman of the Cherokee Tea Party Patriots.



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