As we head into the 2012 presidential season, Republican controlled states are trying to put up barriers to keep people of color as well as the young away from the polls.
The tool of choice for disenfranchisement has been identification cards. In 34 states, laws have either been passed or are being considered that would require voters to show identification before walking to the ballot box, which, of course, would disproportionately affect ethnic minorities-particularly Black voters-and first-time voters, who are less likely to have state-issued identification.
However, Black legislators and organizations are pushing back against the Republican-led efforts to limit voter participation.
On Monday, voters’ rights advocates spoke in Washington about the aforementioned bills as well as new laws in some states that have shortened early voting periods and eliminated same-day registration. They’re asking congressional Democrats to look over and stop these new laws that they feel are purposefully disenfranchising Black voters.
And Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau, told lawmakers to support a bill sponsored by Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, which would prohibit poll workers from requiring photo identification.
Tennessee has become one of the battlegrounds for voters’ rights There, a new law will require voters to show photo ID at the polls starting in January, but the bill excludes university identification cards. Some believe this was intentionally done to disenfranchise younger voters who tend to lean toward the Democratic Party. Missouri Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, spoke to a local Nashville news station and said he hoped the state legislature would think twice about their decision.
“I would hope that [the Tennessee] general assembly will reconsider what they are doing, forget the political advantage that one party might have by creating obstacles to voting and do the right thing,” Cleaver said to News Channel 5 in Nashville. “This is the United States of America-we should try as best we can to get as [much] participation as possible.”
The Black church, which has historically put its hat in the political ring, has decided to come forward to speak out against voter suppression and also to push for a better educated Black electorate for next year’s election.
Minister Leslie Watson Malachi, director of African-American Religious Affairs with People for the American Way; the Rev. Dr. Gregory King, pastor of Williams Temple CME Church in Philadelphia; and the Rev. Dr. Gerald Thomas, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Plainfield, N.J., spoke with Roland Martin on his “Washington Watch” television program to discuss their plans.
“Our theme is taking public policy to the pulpit, to the pew,” said Malachi. “The pew takes it to the people. We take it to the poll, and that demonstrates our power as a people.”
King emphasized being aware of issues in advance of Election Day. “One of the things I think that’s most important is that we help our community recognize that we need to be an educated electorate, that it’s not just going in and pulling a ballot. It’s knowing the issues ahead of time and being involved far enough ahead of time to have an impact before an issue hits the ballot,” he said. King is focusing on younger, first-time voters with his plans. He wants to get to high school and college-aged kids before they become politically apathetic.
“One of the projects we’re trying to work through some of the high schools is getting high school students to get the proper registration for voting and the photo ID for those students who are in high school who are 18 years old,” King said on Martin’s show.
Malachi discussed a voter readiness program she helped create called “I Am a Vessel, and I Vote,” which she said has a multifaceted approach to Black people and the ballot box and hopes to make them more politically aware.
Thomas echoed Malachi and King’s sentiments, telling Martin that some of these voter suppression laws are already in place so it’s up to Black people to launch the defensive before hitting the offensive.
“We have to understand those laws that have been passed, Roland, in order that we can set up our strategy and our game plan to deal with the enemy at hand,” said Thomas. “Political skill will give us political will. That’s where we get our power from.”