Joe’s Journal

Voter rights, voter wrongs

Posted:  Wednesday, January 10, 2018 - 7:15am

Here is a random thought that jumped into my head last week as I wondered if the pipes were going to burst.

The current occupant of the White House recently disbanded his presidential commission investigation into claims of widespread voter fraud. He acted after a federal judge ruled that a member of the commission, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat, was entitled to see what the GOP majority commission was doing.

Our governor chimed in last week calling for a state voter identification law to prevent folks “from away” from voting in our elections. “It is not a hardship to require an ID for voting,” the governor said in an account of his weekly radio address carried in the Portland Press Herald. “An ID is already required for buying alcohol, for driving a car, for cashing a check, boarding a plane, for starting a job, for checking into a hotel and for many everyday activities,” he said.

I seem to remember that several years ago, another state official alleged that hundreds of black voters were brought into Maine to participate in our elections.

Yes, governor. You bet we all want fair and square elections, and we get a bit irritated when we think someone is trying to put in “the fix” to help Candidate A win over Candidate B.

First of all, it seems to me local election officials in our towns, officials who know most of the voters in their communities, and, truth be told, probably knew their parents and grandparents, would have a clue that something was off kilter if they saw busloads of strangers walking into our fire stations and town halls on Election Day.

Secondly, people buying booze, driving a car, cashing a check, boarding a plane and checking into a hotel are not exercising a right guaranteed by our Constitution.

I know my hunting and fishing friends, and others who support the National Rifle Association, get a bit touchy when politicians in Washington, D.C. and state houses start talking about measures that might restrict their basic Constitutional rights under the Second Amendment.

Shouldn’t we be just as touchy about conditions imposed on our Constitutional rights granted under the 15th Amendment?

Right after tens of thousands fought and died during our Civil War, Republicans argued the freed slaves should have free access to the ballot box, education, and other rights. After Mr. Lincoln was assassinated, his successor tried to roll back their new freedoms and triggered a constitutional crisis that culminated in his impeachment.

The race question simmered for nearly 100 years until the 1950s when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of equal education and the Congress passed civil rights and voters’ rights laws.

Sure, governor, it was not a big deal for a prospective voter to pay a poll tax or answer a few questions to prove he or she was literate and able to make an intelligent voting decision, but, let’s just say these tests were not applied on an equal basis.

The bottom line is that in some states, these simple tests were used to keep some citizens from voting. It was a way people in power stayed in power.

And, I am sad to say, it didn’t just apply to the freed slaves and their relatives. In our national history, we have seen wholesale discrimination practiced against lots of citizens including Mormons, Baptists, Jews, Catholics, Italians, Muslims and lots of other folks “from away.”

One way the men who were in power kept their jobs was to keep their mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters away from the voting booth.

It was not until August 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was adopted, that they could vote.

Well, 1920, was a presidential election year where Republican Warren G. Harding defeated Democrat James Cox.

It didn’t take long for the Republicans to start romancing the newly enfranchised women voters.

Here is a GOP campaign ditty from that election. It is called “It took a long time to get the ballot.” The tune is “It’s a long way to Tipperary.” Here are the lyrics, in case you want to sing along.

“When women first began to talk,
Of how they’d vote some time,
Then men decided then and there
T’would certainly be a crime,
They didn’t think that women,
Could vote as well as man,
But here it is in 1920,
We’ll show ’em that we can.
“It took a long to get the ballot,
It took a long time, I’ll say.
It took a long time to learn the men folks,
That we’d vote with them someday.
“Hurrah, for Women Suffrage
Hurrah and Hurray.
It took a long, long time to get the ballot,
but we got it O.K.”

Just for the record, I didn’t make this stuff up.

Stay warm.