News Release

Will the Justice Department Enforce the Voting Rights Act?


John Hickey is the executive director of the Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition. He said today: “While John Ashcroft was governor of Missouri, he vetoed two bills that were designed to equalize access to voter registration between St. Louis County (then mostly white) and St. Louis City (then about 50 percent African-American). Ashcroft’s vetoes show a disturbing commitment on his part to maintaining separate and unequal access to voter registration for African-Americans. When Ashcroft was governor, the Election Commissioners in St. Louis City and St. Louis County established different policies for appointing volunteer deputy registrars (VDRs). In St. Louis County (predominantly white and Republican at that time), the Election Commissioners would freely deputize VDRs from grassroots groups like the League of Women Voters. The City Election Commissioners, however, refused to deputize VDRs. As a result, it was more difficult to get registered to vote in the City of St. Louis than in St. Louis County. Citizens wishing to register had to travel to fixed sites, such as the Election Board headquarters downtown, which in many cases were only open during daytime hours. As a result, registration rates were significantly lower in the City than the County, i.e. 73 percent in the City versus 81 percent in the County (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Feb. 2, 1989).”

Hickey added: “The Missouri Legislature made at least two attempts to fix this inequity, through bills passed in 1988 and in 1989. … John Ashcroft vetoed both bills. … During the debate on the veto override, State Representative Christopher Kelley, a white representative from mid-Missouri, said this about opposition to the bill: ‘That is because the passage of this bill will result in the registration of black Missourians. The people in this chamber who care about racial equality ought to have the fundamental decency and courage to recognize that the St. Louis City Election Board is a fundamentally racist institution and is devoted to keeping black people from registering to vote.’ (St. Louis Post Dispatch, Sept. 8, 1988) … John Ashcroft ran for re-election for governor in November 1988. Following is the percentage of the vote he received in the two jurisdictions being discussed: St. Louis City — 39.4 percent for John Ashcroft, St. Louis County — 68.4 percent for John Ashcroft. Ashcroft’s veto of the voter reform bill in 1988 aided his re-election bid by suppressing black voter registration in St. Louis City. Meanwhile, Ashcroft continued to make voter registration more accessible in St. Louis County, where he carried the vote.”

Co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Weisbrot said today: “Given what happened in our last presidential election, voting rights is probably more of an issue today than at any time since the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The Justice Department is charged with enforcing the Voting Rights Act of 1965; unfortunately, its current head, John Ashcroft, has a very questionable record on that very issue. As Missouri’s governor, Ashcroft did his best to keep the number of registered voters to a minimum — at least in those areas with higher concentrations of African-Americans, poor and working people, and of course Democrats. … But there is more — a lot more. He fought vehemently against even voluntary desegregation of St. Louis public schools. In 1999 he accepted an honorary degree from Bob Jones University, which had a ban on interracial dating. And then there is his very friendly [1998] interview with the white supremacist magazine Southern Partisan, in which he defended the cause of the Confederacy.”
Center for Economic and Policy Research

For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167