In July of 2020, former US President Barack Obama spoke at Congressman John Lewis’ home-going, “We may no longer have to guess the number of jellybeans in a jar in order to cast a ballot,” said Obama. “But even as we sit here, there are those in power who are doing their darnedest to discourage people from voting — by closing polling locations, and targeting minorities and students with restrictive ID laws, and attacking our voting rights with surgical precision, even undermining the Postal Service in the run-up to an election that is going to be dependent on mailed-in ballots, so people don’t get sick.”
Amid a global COVID-19 pandemic states like Florida and Mississippi required photo IDs to vote; many first-time voters could not vote by mail. In the State of Texas, Gov. Abbott signed an executive order to ban drive-thru ballots, early voting polls, absentee mail-ins, 24-hour voting, and mandates that all voters present a valid government issued photo ID further blockading access to democracy.
Despite the State of Texas having the toughest restrictive voter registration legislation in the nation, Pure Justice, a 501 c (3) nonprofit in Harris County, is on track to register nearly 1 thousand new voters in the Greater Houston Metropolitan Area. Also, Harris County is the first county in the United States to permit incarcerated inmates who are awaiting trial and are not on probation or parole an opportunity to cast their vote. Work with the Sheriff’s Office and persevering through intimidation and bureaucratic red tape, Pure Justice has built a coalition of community organizers, elected officials and a membership base that has generated the first precinct in a county of Texas’ 254 counties to designate the Harris County jail as a voting precinct where registered individuals who are detained can vote on election day.
Currently, the Harris County jail is over capacity and is experiencing overcrowding during the COVID pandemic. In July 2022, The Harris County Commissioners’ Court voted to spend over $20M to transport inmates to neighboring corrections facilities more than 300-400 miles away from the county courthouse to cities like Lafayette, LA and Lubbock, TX. Transferring inmates awaiting trial to different states and cities exacerbates a family’s ability to reach their loved ones, as well as diminishes the equality of opportunity for citizens to vote; those citizens innocent until proven guilty as the US Constitution touts.
The Mason-Dixon line in the US, is believed to be the line of demarcation between the South’s Confederate racists and the North’s Union abolitionists. However, history shows that northern states like Rhode Island and Connecticut were the pioneers of African Slavery in The New World. Traces of the Trade, an independent documentary film of a slave-owning family in Rhode Island, shares their historical records of buying, selling, and using slaves for free labor.
Similarly, during the 1700’s, New England States like Connecticut were the first to introduce voter suppression laws like the Literacy Test, which required registrants to read portions of the U.S. Constitution or State Constitution, or The Bible or whatever the county voter registrar required which diluted the strength of Voters of Color.
In the Southern US states like Mississippi in 1955, Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, white members of the Ku Klux Klan, abducted 13-year-old Emmit Till from his great uncle’s cabin and murdered him for allegedly whistling at a white woman. And 6 years later in the same state of MS, community activist, Bob Moses in 1961 was beaten while helping voters to register; he files charges, making the first time a Black person prosecuted a white person for violence in Amite County, but his attacker was acquitted.
“Don’t boo or complain – vote,” President Barack Obama.
Written by: Joshua Sams