By: Andrea Shorter
In 1994, former Governor Pete Wilson refused to implement the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 — a.k.a. the Motor Voter Act. The Act intended to open voter registration in statedepartments such as the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Employment Development Department.
When the Governor refused to comply, I sued him. And, I won.
Wilson, like many of the emerging right wing Republicans of his day, were frothing with the claim that by making voter registration more accessible through public institutions beyond libraries and post offices, voter fraud by illegal immigrants and other unsavory sorts would abound. Making such doomsday claims clearly required no proof whatsoever, just enough venomous bellicose to whip up xenophobic steam in the nation’s most rapidly increasingly minority majority State — the Golden State that just helped deliver the a resounding victory to the first Democratic President since Jimmy Carter.
Long story short, in 1992 I mobilized and organized a successful grassroots campaign to protect the State Constitutional voter rights of disenfranchised eligible registrants in the San Francisco County Jails — where voters not only had an opportunity to vote for President, get women into the U.S. Senate, and on a local bond measure to build new jails, which went down with an apparent inclusion of votes from inmates who voted absentee. So, when Pete Wilson refused to comply with the law to make voter registration more accessible to qualified registrants, I sued as a representative plaintiff of the then Coalition for An African American Community Agenda. As an African American lesbian and democrat, I was also an active member of the SF Chapter of the National Organization for Women, and, a budding member of the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club.
As we enjoy a celebratory reflection of the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, as LGBT people, it goes without saying that we owe a tremendous debt to the sacrifices, courage, and leadership of those many men and women who fought for not only the civil rights of African Americans, but ultimately for all Americans. It is nearly unimaginable to think that in 1963 African Americans, particularly those in the Southern states, were still so gravely disenfranchised from one of the most basic franchises of a democratic society: the right to vote freely without threat or encumbrance. The eventual and necessary Voter Registration Act of 1964 was an unequivocal milestone in the long march towards freedom during the civil rights movement.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent gutting of the Voter Registration Act of 1964, potentially turns the clock back to harrowing times, placing the right to vote without encumbrance in jeopardy, most especially for our brothers and sisters of color in the South. While we might still reel from the recent voter rights challenges of our age concerning Ohio, Arizona, Oklahoma, and above all the ‘hanging chad’ fiasco to elect Al Gore as President of the United States, we can never forget the hard fought battles of the civil rights era for the protections needed to secure the right to vote freely for all Americans.
As a longtime champion for equality for all, the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club is a fighter for the right to vote for all Americans. Alice stands in solidarity with those that face the potential consequences of the high court’s decision that essentially erodes the still needed protections provided for by the Voter Rights Act of 1964.
Voting is a right, and privilege of our democracy. We cannot and should not take it for granted. That is why we encourage LGBT voter turnout for all elections — midterm, you name it. With great respect and debt to those that fought for the right to vote for all Americans 50, 100 or more years ago, we vote.
We count on you to do the same. Vote.
And, by the way: the case against Pete Wilson? The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. That time the Justice’s got it right.