Kentuckians should ask: Why is our senior senator so afraid of his constituents turning out to vote in greater numbers?
Legislation that would make it both easier to vote and harder for states to suppress the vote has thrown Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell into a tizzy.
Flushed out by Democrats who newly control the House, McConnell increasingly sounds like one of those segregationist lions of yore who roamed the Senate, cloaking their political self-interest in pious bluster about states’ rights and an oppressive federal government.
McConnell has the power to kill the Democrats’ bill by keeping it from ever coming to a vote in the Senate. Perhaps he thinks he also can transform the measure into a weapon to use against Democrats, which would explain why he’s been deriding it every day on the Senate floor and in a Washington Post op-ed.
You’d think he’d be more subtle, though. McConnell, the Senate’s top Republican, has all but declared that he’s against removing barriers to voting and making elections cleaner and more fair because he thinks it would help Democrats win.
The House bill that has McConnell so worked up is, indeed, a sweeping piece of legislation, and that makes sense. The multiplying threats of voter suppression, a government closed to all but big-money donors and the corrupting effects on our democracy demand a sweeping response.
For almost every proposed reform, McConnell offers a cynical rejoinder:
Make it harder for billionaires to hide their political spending and their outsized influence over voters and government? Gives “Washington a clearer view of whom to intimidate,” says McConnell.
Make Election Day a federal holiday and give federal employees time off to help ease the shortage of poll workers? Ew, federal employees hovering “around while you cast your ballot.”
Restore provisions of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 that were overturned by the Supreme Court in 2013? “A Washington D.C. power grab for its very own sake.” McConnell spurns the role that Congress and the federal government always have had to play in protecting the rights of black Americans to vote without fear, something that’s true today for other minorities as well.
Most repugnant is McConnell’s opposition to restoring the voting rights of people who have been convicted of a felony and served their time. A quarter of black Kentuckians have lost the right to vote because of our state’s unusual lifetime ban on felon voting, according to a new study by the League of Women Voters of Kentucky. Altogether 312,000 Kentuckians are barred from voting by a felony conviction.
McConnell casts himself as a defender of the constitutional right of state legislatures to prescribe “quote - the time, places and manner of holding elections.” However, Republicans in Kentucky’s legislature have consistently blocked Kentuckians from voting on an amendment that would restore voting rights to felons, and Republican Matt Bevin overturned his predecessor’s restoration of voting rights to some felons.
A poll conducted by the League in December found that 66 percent of Kentucky voters support automatic restoration of the right to vote once a felony sentence is served. Democrats in Congress are trying to do what Kentuckians want, but Republicans in the legislature have blocked.
McConnell has added “transparency intimidates” and “states’ rights over citizens’ rights” to his “money is speech” gospel. No doubt, his sermons will be rewarded by those who think government should belong to those who have the most money.