THE BLOG
11/07/2012 01:35 pm ET Updated Jan 07, 2013

Prosecute Those Who Enacted and Enforced Voter Suppression as Civil Rights Violations

Thankfully, the President won reelection last night. The Republic has been saved from a right-wing takeover of the judiciary that would have validated new laws designed to prevent large swaths of the electorate from voting, thus ensuring that the rulers maintained their "majority," overturned Roe v. Wade and enshrined Citizens United.

Following his victory in 2008, President Obama elected -- or, so it seemed -- to "look forward rather than backward," and not, for example, prosecute former Vice President Dick Cheney for torture in violation of the Geneva Convention. Cheney's open admissions of approving torture are a constant mockery of the rule of the law -- it is as if he were sticking out his jaw, daring the Justice department to throw a punch that never comes.

Let not the euphoria of the reelection victory enable another assault on civil rights, this time of our own citizens, to occur with impunity.

The way to wipe the slate clean of the outrageous and, as argued below, illegal acts to prevent citizens from exercising their civil right to vote is to prosecute the perpetrators all the way up to, and including, those who funded it.

The conspiracy to suppress, intimidate and otherwise disenfranchise voters should be prosecuted for what is it is under federal law: a conspiracy to violate the civil rights of American citizens.

The prosecutor can start with the simple fact that these laws and further administrative restrictions were deliberately imposed on American citizens without the existence of the problem they purported to address. When challenged in court, the perpetrators had no evidence.

Originally passed in the aftermath of the killings of the three civil rights workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner) in 1964 (the story behind the film, Mississippi Burning), the federal law makes it a criminal act, punishable by up to a life term in prison, or even the death penalty, to violate the civil rights of any person.

Conspiracy Against Rights 18 U.S.C. § 241 (emphasis mine):

Section 241 of Title 18 is the civil rights conspiracy statute. Section 241 makes it unlawful for two or more persons to agree together to injure, threaten, or intimidate a person in any state, territory or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him/her by the Constitution or the laws of the Unites States, (or because of his/her having exercised the same). Unlike most conspiracy statutes, Section 241 does not require that one of the conspirators commit an overt act prior to the conspiracy becoming a crime. The offense is punishable by a range of imprisonment up to a life term or the death penalty, depending upon the circumstances of the crime, and the resulting injury, if any.

Lest one believe that public officials are exempt from such prosecution, the statute applies very specifically to public officials as well, even acting "under color of law." Indeed, there is a special section for it:

Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law 18 U.S.C. § 242 (emphasis mine):

This provision makes it a crime for a person acting under color of any law to willfully deprive a person of a right or privilege protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States.

For the purpose of Section 242, acts under "color of law" include acts not only done by federal, state, or local officials within the their lawful authority, but also acts done beyond the bounds of that official's lawful authority, if the acts are done while the official is purporting to or pretending to act in the performance of his/her official duties. Persons acting under color of law within the meaning of this statute include police officers, prisons guards and other law enforcement officials, as well as judges, care providers in public health facilities, and others who are acting as public officials. It is not necessary that the crime be motivated by animus toward the race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin of the victim.

The offense is punishable by a range of imprisonment up to a life term, or the death penalty, depending upon the circumstances of the crime, and the resulting injury, if any.

One can imagine the conferences in which the laws and strategies were developed. They may have had some good laughs. Indeed, those responsible for the murders of the three civil rights workers had a jolly good time of it, too.

Pennsylvania's Republican House Leader notoriously stated that the voter ID law that threatened to disenfranchise nearly 1 million people, "would enable the Governor to win Pennsylvania."

Ohio's notorious Secretary of State, John Husted, has not abandoned his efforts to restrict the vote in his state. There is no shame, no embarrassment, no suggestion that he knows or, if he does know, cares, that the right to vote is a civil right.

Nor can one even plausibly suggest that early voting restrictions are anything but a means to suppress the vote. John Kerry "lost" Ohio because of very long voter lines, engineered by providing fewer voting machines per voter in areas highly likely to provide large democratic majorities. [After which Bush claimed a mandate!].

And, then there is Governor Rick Scott (R-FLA). After witnessing the enormous lines that early-voting restrictions, plus 10-page long ballots, had caused, he absolutely refused to extend voting times at all. No explanation.

A grand jury should be empaneled, and a special prosecutor appointed, to look into such matters as:

i) voters who were kept on long lines, intimidated with threatening physical behaviors, given false information about voting days or locations, and so forth;

ii) the origin of the voter ID and early-voting restriction laws that seemed to emanate from nowhere quickly into post-2010 right-wing controlled legislatures and to governor's desks for signature. Who paid for this? What were the purposes behind it?

iii) With respect to the number of voting stations, voting booths and the times allowed for early voting, what were the government reasons for shrinking rather than expanding those times and places that overrode the "enjoyment" by citizens of their right to vote?

iv). With respect to voter intimidation groups such as "True-the-Vote," who has funded them? What problem exists that they were established to address? How did they choose their means to achieve their goal?

Does this suggest that, e.g., Florida Governor Rick Scott, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted and other public officials could be guilty of committing a federal crime? Does this suggest that those who conspired to impose these laws and restrictions could also be guilty?

Yes, and yes.

But, if this behavior is allowed to go uninvestigated and unpunished, expect a lot more of it.

Because, like a cancer that has been reduced but not eradicated by chemotherapy, the right-wing always returns, happy to undermine the foundations of our democracy to get its way, until it sucks all the life out of the body politic.

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