The 2008 U.S. Presidential election brought us not only a historic election but also record participation of minority voters. More than two million more African American voters and an additional two million Latino voters cast ballots than had done so in the previous presidential election cycle in 2004. For the very first time, African-American women had the highest turnout rate of any racial, ethnic or gender group, and voting among younger African American voters jumped by more than 17 percent.
Such high levels of civic participation in the melting pot of America are, no doubt, cause for celebration. But 2008’s record turnout also triggered a backlash, which will severely hinder access to the ballot in several states this year. In 2011, at least 34 states introduced legislation or policies that will cause suppression in voter turnout. Thus far, 14 states have passed such laws and presently nearly 10 other states have similar laws pending, according to non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law.
Proponents of the laws cite no recent illegal voting epidemic but claim the laws are in response to voter fraud, which is virtually non-existent in the U.S. And, of course, there are criminal penalties to deal with anyone who would violate the laws on the books.
The new restrictions attack ballot access by requiring photo IDs to vote, curtailing early voting windows, stripping the formerly incarcerated–men and women who have served their debt to society– of the right to vote and purging voters rolls, often with thousands of errors. Approximately 21 million Americans don’t have a government-issued photo ID, including 25 percent of voting-aged African-Americans. This is not the first time politicians have curtailed minority voting access. Similar restrictive laws were passed as a response to the passage of the 15th Amendment granting ex-slaves the right to vote. On both occasions, these types of laws had the same result: limiting the ability of people of color to cast their ballots.
This attack on voting rights is coordinated. It is insidious. And it is the worst we’ve seen since the Jim Crow era. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called voting the “foundation stone for political action.” The laws restricting access are like jackhammers persistently chipping away at that stone.
The NAACP recognizes this threat and its potential effects. We are taking action this election year to maintain the successful turnout levels of 2008 by registering new voters to ensure that every eligible voter has the opportunity to cast a legitimate vote in the 2012 election.
This Wednesday, the NAACP and our partners in the Faith, Labor and civic organizing communities launched our most ambitious voter registration and education drive in recent history. This is My Vote will register, educate and turn out hundreds of thousands of voters this year, with a special focus on African-Americans and other minorities, younger and elderly voters.
This is My Vote will enlist volunteers to go door-to-door in neighborhoods throughout the country, registering new voters and educating existing voters on the new laws and restrictions in each state. Our national voter registration hotline 1-866-MyVote1 allows citizens in every state to receive voter registration documents by mail, and our new website, www.thisismyvote.org will provide online tools for people to download registration documents and learn about voting requirements state-by-state. In addition, we have entered into historic partnerships with the National Baptist Convention and other denominations to ensure the reach of the campaign is as broad as possible.
Today, more than 46 years after passage of the Voting Rights Act, most of us would like to believe the fight for voting rights and access had been won long ago. Last year revealed that the battle still rages on, and so does the NAACP. We are more determined than ever to succeed in our fight for equality.
For information about registration, call 1-866-MyVote1 or visit www.thisismyvote.org. The coordinated attack on the right to vote requires a coordinated, nationwide response. Our vote is our power, and with your help, our vote will be protected for generations to come.