My Jewish friends have been helping me with my Hebrew this election season. The Hebrew root for “vote, ” they tell me, is the same as the word for “voice.” To vote is, literally, to make your voice heard.
And to deny the vote is to deny someone their voice.
Despite the fact that both major parties in this country are spending billions of dollars to “get out the vote, ” Republicans in my home state of North Carolina–and in several other Southern and midwestern states–continue to engage in intentional voter suppression.
I know a lot of things are being said by both sides in this election. Many of them are only partly true. Some are just lies.
But no issue in this election has been more carefully considered by the courts than access to the ballot itself. In 2003, the NC NAACP sued Governor Pat McCrory for signing the most extreme voter suppression measure in the country. It was no accident that the law moved through both houses of the legislature and became law within a day of the Supreme Court’s Shelby decision. Without the “headache” of the Voting Rights Act, one legislator said, NC Republicans could move forward with their plan.
Their justification for limiting access to the ballot was “voter fraud.” But expert witnesses testified in NAACP vs McCrory, and lawyers representing Gov McCrory had to concede, that there is almost no evidence of voter fraud in modern elections. From 2000-2014, only 32 cases could be documented in the whole country. One expert testified that an American is statistically more likely to be struck by lightening than to get away with voter fraud.
But when the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their historic Richmond decision, they said that a review of the evidence made it clear that McCrory et al had targeted African-Americans for voter suppression “with almost surgical precision.” What’s more, they refused to accept party as a proxy for race. This isn’t simply partisan wrangling, they said. It’s wrong.
Voter suppression is wrong because our vote is our voice–and any attempt to deny it is a denial of our humanity. It’s why Proverbs exhorts us to “be a voice for the voiceless”–not to speak for them, but to speak and to vote on behalf of those whose humanity is being denied.
For those of us who follow the way of Jesus, this isn’t a left or right issue. It’s a moral issue. I was glad to testify on CNN this morning about the witness of North Carolina’s NAACP and Red Letter Christians who are standing up and speaking out against voter suppression across the country.