Still fighting for voters' rights

CYRIL JOSH BARKER Amsterdam News Staff | 1/5/2012, 11:12 a.m.
As the nation enters another presidential election year, it seems that the push to get...
Still fighting for voters' rights

As the nation enters another presidential election year, it seems that the push to get people of color registered is being met with a fight to keep the Black, other minority and youth vote from being strong.

New voting laws are being enacted across several states that require government IDs, eliminate early voting and ban registration drives in order to block qualified voters from getting to the polls. These laws restrict access to the franchise in ways that have not been so aggressively pushed in decades-in some cases, in nearly a century.

History is clearly trying to repeat itself, at least in the hopes of those who want our nation to relive some of its darkest moments-the time after the Civil War when laws like grandfather clauses, literacy tests and poll taxes aimed to keep Blacks away from the polls. Black voting rights activists have not seen such a clear and brazen assault on their work since the 1960s, when the Civil Rights Movement led to the passage of the 24th Amendment in 1964, outlawing poll taxes.

But with the rise of Republicans in legislatures and governorships across the nation in 2010, these emboldened politicians have been looking for ways to suppress the Black vote. Republican politicians have been looking for ways to turn back the clock since the 2008 presidential election that brought to office the nation's first Black president, Barack Obama-an election that saw the highest turnout of young Black voters, including Black women, yet.

"It doesn't take much, with how close elections have been both at the national, state and local levels, to suppress the vote and for the opposition to win," said political consultant Bill Lynch. "This comes right out of the Republican playbook. Attorney General Eric Holder has to enforce the Voting Rights Act and let these states know that what they are doing is unconstitutional."

Last month, Holder spoke about the voting laws and how he plans to enforce the "law of the land," which was passed nearly 50 years ago by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

"In 1965, when President Johnson signed the landmark Voting Rights Act into law, he proclaimed, 'The right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless.' Today, as attorney general, I have the privilege and the solemn duty of enforcing this law. We will examine the facts and we will apply the law," Holder said.

Republicans have good reason to fear the Black vote. In 2008, states including Ohio, South Carolina, Missouri, Nevada, Maryland and Mississippi saw a 70 percent Black voter turnout.

That election also saw other voters who had previously stayed away from the polls, including Hispanics and the young, become engaged in the process as never before. If the Republican lawmakers and governors succeed in their efforts to suppress the vote, 5 million legitimate voters could be kept from the polls, according to voting rights advocates.

So far, five state legislatures have enacted laws that would require voters to show government ID when they go to cast their ballot: Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. These states have an estimated 3.2 million people who don't have state-issued photo IDs.