In the lead-up to the 2012 elections, self-serving state politicians across the nation are getting dressed to suppress the vote. They are donning legislation and executive orders that are fine tailored to restrict the voting rights of communities of color, middle class Americans, women, and students in order to elevate the interests of the 1%.
The NAACP’s new report, “Defending Democracy: Confronting 21st Century Barriers to Voting Rights in America”, reveals how and why these politicians want to refashion the law. The report shows that the landscape of presidential elections changed in 2008 with bigger changes to come that don’t favor the sponsors of voter suppression tactics.
The legacy of the 2008 election is record turnout for minority voters and young voters across the country. According to the Pew Research Center, which compared turnout rates in 2004 to those in 2008, the African American rate increased nearly five percent to 65.3%, nearly matching the rate for white eligible voters. Participation levels for Hispanics, Asian Americans, and college-aged voters also revealed increases of 2.7%, 2.4% and 1.8%, respectively.
Add in the projected growth of minority groups from the 2010 census, and it becomes clear why some unethical state legislators have felt an urgent need to cloak themselves in voter suppression measures.
In 2011 alone, 34 state legislatures have introduced voter suppression bills, with laws already passing in 14 of those states and pending in eight. Our report shows that each and every piece of legislation would disproportionately impact the voting rights of people of color, working women, blue color workers, students, seniors and immigrants.
In many states, the attack takes the form of a government photo identification requirement at the voting booth. Despite studies indicating that someone is far more likely to be struck by lightning than to impersonate someone at a polling place, legislators in these states tout the “voting fraud” myth as a necessary solution to a nonexistent problem.
Other states have tried to tamp down voter turnout through the elimination of same-day registration and voting, significant cuts to early voting, Sunday voting restrictions on third-party voter registration drives, and ex-felon voter disenfranchisement. And in anticipation of a November chill, many states added two or more of these restrictive layers for a full suppression ensemble.
As you would expect, outfitting each state with coordinating suppression attire does not come cheap. But, thanks to the bulging bankrolls of designers like the Koch brothers, several states have been able to implement these invidious laws. Through their financial support of the American Legislative Exchange Council and Americans for Prosperity, Charles and David Koch have convinced extremist legislators in several states to propose and pass the discriminatory voter ID bills. The Kochs have also directly contributed an additional quarter million dollars to candidates who support the voter suppression legislation.
Like so many modern style trends, the efforts to disenfranchise minority voters have a retro feel – in the case, harkening back to the 1890s. Back then, in the dawn of Jim Crow, the look was white robes, attack dogs, and public lynchings. Today’s voter intimidation style is far more sophisticated, yet the result is the same – legislators attack, intimidate, and block the vote.
While suppression stylists are getting a makeover, we have some new suits of our own. We are taking this fight to courthouses, statehouses, and the streets. Civil rights groups, including the NAACP, ACLU, and League of Women Voters and others, have filed complaints with the Department of Justice to block the implementation of these restrictions under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires states with a history of discrimination such as Texas and South Carolina to pre-clear all changes to voting rights with the Department of Justice.
And on December 10th – International Human Rights Day – a coalition of thousands of civil, human, and labor rights supporters will take to the streets of New York City to stand for freedom and show off the style of a nation that will not allow these attacks on the constitutional right to vote to continue.
Stefanie Brown is National Field Director for the NAACP. She can be reached via Twitter @stefbrown33