As all the hype over debate performances between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney continues, Black voter mobilization and election protection activists remain focused on a ‘state of emergency’ in preparation for Nov. 6 polling precincts where the real showdown will take place.
“I think this is the worst civil rights battle that I’ve seen in my lifetime,” says Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “And I think it rivals the 1960s and the 50s actually. People have really decided that the only way to win elections is to suppress the Black vote. This is a purposeful, deliberate strategy. And the only thing we can do is to fight back and make sure they don’t win.”
Over the past two years, Republican administrations have moved to enact new legislation that require voter identification cards, photo identifications, cut backs on voting days and times, erroneous purging of voters from rolls and other rigid registration and identification requirements. Those most affected will be racial minorities, senior citizens, veterans, youth, low-income people and previously convicted felons. Though the supporters claim the new laws are to prevent voter fraud, there is little or no evidence of a voter fraud problem in U. S. politics.
Therefore, election protection activists by the millions will dispatch across the nation or monitor telephone lines before and on Election Day Nov. 6 in order to protect the sanctity of the vote. Having proclaimed the situation a “state of emergency”, Black civil rights groups have initiated a a unified voter registration, get-out-to-vote and election protection campaign.
“It’s as bad as we allow it to be,” says Melanie Campbell, president/CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. “We know what we’re up against. Everybody’s exposed. No matter what the barriers are. Our history in this country, we’ve had barriers before.”
Campbell continues, “The legal groups – the Lawyers’ Committee, the Advancement Project, the ACLU – all of our legal groups have been doing a great job in pushing back from a legal perspective and winning in a lot of cases because it’s egregious and it’s obvious that these laws that have been passed over the last two years were based on a partisan advantage. We all know that and the public knows it more. Now people need the tools to know what to do about it.”
The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies recently released a statement reporting that a broad coalition of civil rights, social justice and faith-based and other organizations representing communities of color has “declared a state of emergency on voting rights in the U.S. and said that millions of people could be disenfranchised by restrictive voter laws.”
The coalition has called for voters to take steps to ensure that they are aware of any new laws in their states and how to assure that their votes will be counted. Among the steps:
- Check your registration status
- Check the documentation needed to register and to vote
- Check the deadlines for registration and early/absentee voting
- Check your state voter laws
- Check your polling location and hours
Among a number of community resources to assist with voter registration, information and problems with voting on Election Day are as follows:
- NAACP – This is My Vote www.thisismyvote.org/
- Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – http://www.866ourvote.org/ 1-866-OURVOTE (To report voting problems)
- National Council of La Raza – Mobilize to Vote www.nclr.org/register www.nclr.org/challenge.
- National Urban League – Occupy the Vote www.iamempowered.com/occupythevote
- PICO Network – Let My People Vote www.piconetwork.org/tools-resources/let-my-people-vote-resources
According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York Law School,http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/2012_summary_of_voting_law_changes/, at least 180 restrictive bills have been introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states*:
- Twenty-seven restrictive bills are currently pending in six states.
- Twenty-five laws and two executive actions have passed since the beginning of 2011 in the following 19 states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Main, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin
- Seventeen states, which account for 218 electoral votes, or nearly 80 percent of the total needed to win the presidency, have passed restrictive voting laws and executive actions that have the potential to impact the 2012 election; Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginal, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
- At least 34 states introduced legislation that requires voters to show photo identification in order to vote. An additional four states introduced into legislation request that voters show photo identification just to register to vote.
- Virginia passed a law which eliminates the execution of an affidavit of identity to replace the voter ID requirements when voting at the polls or applying for an absentee ballot.
- At least 17 states introduced into legislation requirements for proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, in order to register to vote. Proof of citizenship laws passed in Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee.
- At least 16 states introduced bills eliminating Election Day and same-day voter registration. Florida, Illinois and Texas passed laws restricting voter registration drives, as well as Florida and Wisconsin passed laws making it more difficult for people who move to stay registered and vote. Ohio eliminated their week long same-day voter registration, and Main passed a law eliminating Election Day registration.
- At least nine states introduced bills that reduce early voting period, four tried to reduce absentee voting opportunities as well. Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia were successful in reducing early voting.
- Two states, Florida and Iowa, reversed prior executive actions which made it easier for citizens with past felonies to restore their voting rights. South Dakota passed a law imposing further restrictions on citizens with felony convictions by denying voting rights to persons on probation.
- *Updates may apply based on recent court rulings. Please see http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/2012_summary_of_voting_law_changes/ for updates and more details.
“We have to fight back as our ancestors and our fore parents did. And we’re not being hung from a tree so we need to do what we need to do in this 21st Century voting rights fight,” says Campbell. “Everybody’s got to be a part of the voter protection. We know what this is and we need to do what we need to do to fight back.”