By Rev. Al Sharpton
Last week, Florida’s former Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer appeared on my TV show, Politics Nation on MSNBC, and candidly discussed how the GOP in his state systematically pushed for harsh new voter ID laws in order to suppress the vote — specifically that of African Americans and young people. Blowing the lid off of insider meetings, Greer said his party gave up on courting minority voters and instead began seeking methods to disenfranchise and purge as many of them from participating as possible. He confirmed what some of us have long argued, and he provided a backdrop into what is transpiring all across the country in advance of the upcoming presidential election. Well today, in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, a judge ruled in favor of upholding the draconian Republican-supported voter ID law. This outrageous ruling is a slap in the face to democracy, and a slap in the face to all those who sacrificed so dearly in order to secure our liberties.
In what can only be described as a shocking and appalling ruling, Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson has sided with those who would seek to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of otherwise eligible voters just a few months before Election Day. While Simpson said he was disturbed by statements made by Pennsylvania state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (who openly said voter ID laws would allow Gov. Romney to win Pennsylvania), he believed that state officials would be able to enforce these laws in a “nonpartisan, even-handed manner.” But when the entire premise of a law is partisan to begin with, the idea of fairness is preposterous and insulting at best.
The Pennsylvania Transportation Department estimates that approximately 9 perent of registered voters — or 750,000 people — lack state-issued photo IDs in the state and will not be able to cast a ballot this November. And it should come as no surprise that a majority of these folks are the poor, the elderly, people of color, the disabled and young folks. In other words, they represent a massive voting block of the Democratic Party and came out in unprecedented numbers for the 2008 election. Judge Simpson, a Republican, stated that he was ‘skeptical’ of the 9 percent figure and that opponents of these voter ID lawsfailed to make a case of voter suppression. But what Simpson should have focused on instead was the inability of proponents of these laws to prove that voter fraud exists in the first place. Once again unable to provide valid proof that voter fraud is an actual threat, these Republican lawmakers have argued a solution looking for a problem. And the truly unfortunate part is that they have thus far succeeded in the state of Pennsylvania.
For the past few weeks, I have traveled to key areas like Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and Florida as part of my Voter Engagement Tour. Because these new voter ID laws range from an elimination of early/absentee voting to new photo ID requirements and more, citizens must be educated as to what tactics are in play in their respective state. They then must organize to get as many voters the appropriate IDs or other documents in order to counteract the repressive measures that will impact them this election. My organization, National Action Network, and I will now be sure to visit Pennsylvania in the immediate future. We will rally folks, and assist churches and civil rights groups with getting their congregants/members registered and helping them to obtain photo IDs.
While there may be time for people to appeal Judge Simpson’s ruling, we will not take the chance. Many of those impacted by these laws cannot afford to take time off from work or cannot make it to a state agency that can administer the IDs. Many are elderly who may not even possess a birth certificate, let alone a vehicle to get to the polls. And many just need clarity as to what will now be required. We will do our part to prepare people as much as possible, and get as many eligible souls to the polls, but all of us need to take action.
Today’s unfortunate ruling is a clear upholding of voter suppression, but it is not the first time we’ve witnessed systematic methods of blocking the vote in this nation. It was a broad coalition of activists, religious leaders, lawmakers and citizens from diverse backgrounds that fought disenfranchisement in the past. During that time, some even gave their lives. If we’ve survived church bombings, brute force and more, we should at least be able to empower and assist the less fortunate among us to combat those who simply cannot win based on their own Party’s platform alone. We must take action; no excuses. The ones who are attempting to block us aren’t hesitating, and neither should we.
Follow Rev. Al Sharpton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TheRevAl