The Importance of the Polls


140 years ago, a very pivotal backroom agreement changed the course of American history, especially for African Americans.  In 1876, the outcome of the presidential race rested upon the disputed tabulation of votes in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Each state submitted two sets of election returns.

At the time, these three states were the only southern states with Reconstruction-era Republican governments. While a bipartisan congressional commission fiercely debated the results, a secret meeting between supporters of the Republican candidate, Governor Rutherford B. Hayes of Ohio and supporters of the Democratic candidate Governor Samuel B. Tilden of New York negotiated the approval of Hayes’ election.

The compromise, known as the Compromise of 1877, meant that Republicans could have the presidency if they removed all federal troops from the South.  Thus, ending the Reconstruction era, creating a Democratic stronghold on the South, and issuing the Jim Crow Laws that still stain the American landscape.

Prior to the election, complaints about President Grant’s administration and a digression of support for Reconstruction policies that afforded equality for African Americans helped to create an atmosphere of violence and intimidation to keep African Americans from the polls.

In 1873, the Supreme Court had limited the strength of Reconstruction-era laws and federal support of enforcement of such laws, especially the 14th and 15th Amendments that gave African Americans citizenship and the right to vote.  Why do I bring up this point?

This upcoming election is just as much about Supreme Court justices as it is about ISIS, jobs, and student loans.  If not, why is congress holding President Obama’s nomination hostage? As much as the executive and legislative branches fight, the judicial branch is often the promoter and referee of the political boxing matches.

All based on the interpretation of the Constitution and the tributary of laws that spread from its illuminating ink. The 2016 presidential election will be the first presidential election in 50 years without full protection of the Voting Rights Act.   17 states, that amount to 189 electoral votes, will have new voting restrictions that make it harder to register and harder to vote. This is possible because of a Supreme Court decision.

During Hayes’ acceptance  of  the Republican nomination, he wrote in essence that he would restore local control of the south to the “honest and capable” people of the South and limit federal enforcement of Reconstruction policies.

The South was only honest about being capable of implementing an environment of hatred and systematic white supremacy. Why is this point important? All politics are local. Local laws govern communities. Local elections raise mayors, city and county councilmen, and sheriffs. School systems and water commissions are forged by local elections.

If these public entities are minimal, why are they so paramount to the people of Flint, Michigan? Local elected officials hire administrators that render services to and police communities. Thus, voter turnout is just as important for the local community as it is for the national cause.  The Voting Rights Act was passed, but state and local officials in the South did not fully enforce the law. United States citizens were disenfranchised by local officials. 

The polls are important. The polls are powerful. The polls are where there is power to people.


(Rev. Steven L. Evans is a pastor and lives in Clinton.)


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