The War on Black Voters
It's not just about photo ID. A far-reaching wave of state laws will make voting in 2012 harder.
"This disenfranchisement of voting rights continues to disproportionately affect African-American men," said Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, who added that nationally, millions of ex-felons have completed their sentences, work, pay taxes and raise families in their communities. "An estimated 5.3 million people in this country are denied the right to vote due to past criminal convictions."
Voting rights of people with felony convictions have also been rolled back in Iowa, which passed a new law requiring those who have completed their sentences to apply to have their rights restored -- on the taxing condition that they pay all outstanding financial obligations, including any fines or court costs.
Calls to Action
To help educate citizens, community leaders and election and judicial officials about this rash of restrictive voting laws -- the dozens passed, and the many more still up for consideration -- the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the Democratic National Committee recently released comprehensive reports analyzing the measures state by state. Both organizations also have on-the-ground chapters nationwide engaged in aggressive voter-education campaigns.
"In November we saw a major victory for voting rights when the people of Maine vetoed a regressive law that sought to end their nearly 40-year-old tradition of Election Day registration," said Wasserman Schultz of early successes from the DNC ground game. "We've had similar efforts around the country. In Ohio, they are well on their way to gathering enough signatures to veto a Republican statute that restricts voters' access to the polls."
In addition to delivering their report to the United Nations, the NAACP is also holding a "Stand for Freedom" march and rally on Dec. 10 at the UN in New York City. "We need to encourage people of all colors in this country to see this voting rights attack for what it is," said Jealous of their UN focus. "Far right-wing conservatives are trying to attack minority voting rights at a time when people of color are on the verge of becoming the majority in this country ... The UN has a committee for the eradication of all forms of racial discrimination, and we will make sure that they review this."
Meanwhile, the Advancement Project is setting its sights on the U.S. Department of Justice. In November it launched a petition urging U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to oppose restrictive voting laws, both in states governed under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act -- which requires certain states to submit proposed changes to their voting and election laws to either the Justice Department or the federal district court in Washington, D.C., for preclearance -- as well as other jurisdictions. The organization plans to deliver the petition, which has nearly 20,000 signatures (with close to 100,000 more on identical petitions sent by Voto Latino, AFL-CIO and other partners), to the Justice Department on Dec. 15.
"Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is under attack by the right, so [the Justice Department] is going to be very careful and ask for all of the evidence they need to show violations," said Dianis of the department's meticulous investigation into the potential impact of these laws. "Part of what we want to do is call upon them to step up."
On Dec. 13, Holder will deliver a speech in Texas about these voting laws, so their fate may be known soon. Until then, advocates remain vigilant. "Our role is still to fight for an impartial, unabridged right to vote," said William J. Barber II, chair of the NAACP Political Action and Legislative Affairs Committee. "We must fight back against any attempt to suppress, segregate, isolate or steal the power and potential of our vote."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.