(Special to The Root) — On Thursday night, Mitt Romney officially accepted his party's nomination as the Republican presidential candidate. Although Romney has been the GOP's presumptive nominee since late April, the delegate roll call at the convention this week made it official. There were more than 2,000 delegates — men and women of all ages and backgrounds, from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S territories. They had the chance to make their voices heard by casting their votes for the person they feel will best represent their party in the election that is only months away. Ironically, the Republican Party is committed to denying that same freedom — open participation in our democracy — to thousands across the country.
Based on the prevalence of confetti, cheering and congratulatory speeches at the convention, it seems that the irony of the roll-call tradition was lost on those in attendance. That the convention took place in Tampa, Fla., only deepened the current of hypocrisy running through the proceedings, to which participants were oblivious.
Around the country, Republican politicians, Tea Party groups and the conservative billionaires who back them are doing everything in their power to restrict the ability of certain Americans to get to the polls on Nov. 6 and vote in local, state and federal elections.
Ohio's Secretary of State Jon Husted has eliminated weekend access to polls in the state, an option that was often exercised by black voters in past elections. Republicans in Pennsylvania have pushed through a law requiring specific forms of restrictive photo identification to vote, a constraint that systematically pushes black and low-income voters out of the system. And in Florida, Republican Gov. Rick Scott has overseen a sweeping voter purge that has erased hundreds — if not thousands — of lawful citizens from the voter rolls.
The massive "voter fraud" against which these laws purport to fight has no basis in history or reality. The true purpose of these laws is to suppress the votes and voices of low-income people and people of color. History shows that creating barriers to voting like ID requirements and restricted voting hours systematically eliminates minorities from the system. And as Republican leaders have said themselves, this is precisely the point. Last week, Doug Preisse, GOP chairman for the Columbus, Ohio, area, told reporters, "I guess I really actually feel we shouldn't contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine."
Republicans have attempted to thwart allegations that the "anti-voter fraud" planks of their platform are rooted in discrimination by including people of color on their roster of speakers at the convention. Tuesday night alone featured remarks by Ted Cruz, the Cuban-American GOP senatorial candidate from Texas who wants to reinstate deportation of young immigrants currently protected under President Obama's deferred action policy; Nikki Haley, the Indian-American Republican governor of South Carolina who believes legal immigrants should be forced to carry documentation of their immigration status at all times; and Artur Davis, a black former congressman who, after realizing that he couldn't get elected in Alabama as a Democrat, made the politically calculated decision to become a Republican and completely reverse his position on voter-ID laws from condemnation to full-throated endorsement.
But the GOP's ability to find and give a platform to those few, powerful people of color who willfully ignore their party's attempts to silence their own communities does not invalidate or distract from the blatant discrimination that drives these voter-ID and restricted-voting laws. It simply reinforces the hypocrisy of a party that is busy making a show of its own fair, democratic process in a state where it is working hard to make sure no such thing takes place on Nov. 6.
Attempting to stop people from casting the votes to which they are entitled is the last-ditch effort of a party that has run out of ideas. If a party's platform is so regressive and discriminatory that the only way to win elections is to make sure those who disagree have no voice, perhaps it is time for the party to reexamine its views instead of spending countless hours and millions of dollars suppressing the rights of American citizens.
I'd like to think that the Republican leadership will realize they're playing a losing game, but the truth is that if we want to stop these disenfranchisement efforts in their tracks, we have to do it ourselves. Vote.ColorofChange.org is a campaign committed to monitoring attacks on our right to vote and taking action to eliminate them; we need your firsthand reports to make sure that we capture real stories of race being used as a wedge issue during this election. We also urge voters to visit Watch the Race, a campaign tool that you can use to track instances of race-baiting, voter suppression and Election Day errors.
Holding our leaders accountable for these policies and collecting proof of the harmful impacts of voting restrictions will help us dismantle voter-suppression tactics and ensure that our community gets its fair share of our democracy. We can't wait for party platforms to catch up with what's right; if we want a voice in our political system, we have to speak for ourselves.
Rashad Robinson is executive director of ColorOfChange.org. With more than 800,000 members, ColorOfChange.org is the nation's largest black online civil rights organization.
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