A Practice in Hypocrisy: Defending Voting Rights While Keeping the Ballot Line

Imani Oakley

This past Friday’s 56th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act was lauded by multiple members of New Jersey’s Congressional Delegation. Yet, despite their protestations that “every vote matters,” New Jersey’s establishment politicians continue to engage in vote suppression tactics like the ballot line. Have they no sense of irony?

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was — and remains — a historic piece of legislation. The result of dogged advocacy by both legislators and activists, the law laid out crucial voting protections aimed at dismantling the multiple systems of voter disenfranchisement that had been institutionalized across the country.

However, the VRA was never meant to be a cure-all and should have been a first step in a long legislative journey of remaking our elections to deliver on the promise of democracy.

That has not happened and in the meantime Republican attacks have greatly weakened crucial provisions of the law, rendering parts of its protections toothless.

Some New Jersey Democrats have rightfully called for Congress to reinvigorate the Voting Rights Act and every Democratic member of the delegation has co-sponsored H.R. 1 — the For the People Act — a massive voting rights bill.

So if New Jersey Democrats are so adamant that voting rights shouldn’t be decided by one’s “race, gender or zip code,” why are they so comfortable with our state’s unique form of voter suppression that enshrines the power of white male party bosses — the ballot line.

It is a beyond than well established fact that the ballot line system inhibits electoral challengers, confuses voters, and ghoulishly warps our state’s democracy. Yet time and time again when presented with the opportunity to condemn — or even simply refuse to utilize — the ballot line, NJ Democrats have failed to do so. It is easy for them to wax poetic about the sanctity of voting rights, but do not believe their kind words. Look at their actions.

By not taking a stand against the ballot line and other local forms of voter suppression, NJ Democrats are beyond hypocritical — they’re being insincere. It is easy for them to post online about voting rights or sign on as a co-sponsor to H.R. 1 (which would not eliminate the ballot line or other local forms of voter suppression), but much harder for them to practice what they preach and help build a true democracy.
New Jersey deserves better. We all do.

Imani Oakley is a candidate for Congress in the CD10 Democratic Primary.

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