This is being written as we approach the end of the month of February, the month chosen by Dr. Carter G. Woodson to acknowledge and celebrate African American accomplishments and history. I would caution that it may be too early to celebrate. The political and social rights African Americans secured within the last sixty years are under attack. We are in a period when it has once again become permissible to insult African Americans en masse. Republicans vying for the their party’s presidential nomination have decided that one avenue to the nomination is to instruct African Americans on the need to acquire a work ethic, to abandon the food stamp president, and to stop depending on white American money. More sobering then these insults are the seemingly coordinated attacks on the unfettered right to vote.
Republicans over the last two election cycles have won governorships and control of state legislatures. The immediate and obvious benefit for Republicans is the ability to redistrict states in a fashion favoring Republicans for the next decade; and placing at risk incumbent Democrats at the state and federal levels. However, the less discussed danger is the ability of Republican governors and Republican controlled state legislatures to change settled aspects of election laws and to weaken the ability of traditional Democratic allies to support the Democratic Party: African Americans, labor union members and the young.
Members of the Republican Party and some conservatives are systematically attacking and breeching the rights many thought were inviolate. The right to an unfettered vote is now under attack. The Republican election strategy in the run-up to the 2012 elections is to change election laws on a state-by-state basis. Republican controlled state legislatures and governors are introducing and enacting new laws and rules related to voter registration and voting.
The Republican Party has aggressively pushed changes in electoral procedures and laws across the country. The greatest energy has been directed at calls for voter ID laws. On its face the use of voter IDs appears to be benign and needed to prevent voter fraud. The problem with these arguments is that the laws are biased against the young, the poor and some classes of African Americans. The arguments also lack any substantive support as it relates to voter fraud. In none of the states were voter ID laws are in use, or proposed, have there been cases of wide spread fraud of voters presenting themselves as someone other than themselves.
Georgia college students with non-state colleges IDs cannot use their college IDs for voter identification. The Texas ID law permits the use of concealed weapons licenses as ID for voting but prohibits the use of student IDs for voting identification. Other states with ID laws are Kansas, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Tennessee and Indiana. Most of these states are key to a competitive 2012 presidential race.
In Florida and Georgia the early voting period has been shortened by several weeks. In 2008 the early voting period served to encourage voting among first time voters. Many of the first time voters were young voters and first time African American and poor white voters. Florida has effectively ended the ability of registered voters to change their address at the polls, and has imposed onerous restrictions on organized voter registration drives.
Governor Rick Scott of Florida and his cabinet have also dealt another blow to the re-absorbion of ex-offenders into the body politic. The governor and his Cabinet have revised state rules enacted in 2008 that made it easier for ex-offender to regain their voting right. Under the revised rules ex-offenders must wait five years after completion of their sentence to even apply for civil rights restoration. These new rules, according to some experts, will contribute to recivism. In the opinion of some experts getting ex-offenders back into civic life helps to deter recivisam. Another impact of the rule changes will be the effect it will have on voting participation among African Americans and Latinos in the 2012 elections.
The changes we have outlined are clearly designed to erode and suppress the electoral participation of many groups and to make it difficult for the young, the poor and those of color to exercise their voting civil right.
The problem in reversing these laws which seek to exclude as opposed to include citizens in the voting process is that the U.S. Supreme Court has given its blessing to voter IDs; and may see no harm in many of the other obstacles been erected against broader participation in the country’s democratic process.
It is time to shout and protest from every roof top and street corner in the country of the injustices that are now taking place. The forms that protests and actions take should be as varied as the communities in which these injustices are taking place. In some cases it will call for marches demonstrations making state governors and legislators accountable for their actions. It is also the appropriate moment to press the United States Department of Justice to apply a strict scrutiny standard to any changes in voting procedures in those states that are under the jurisdiction of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Further, civil rights groups and those representing labor, and youth should begin to organize around this attempt at voter suppression and make it an issue in the run up to the 2012 elections. These suppression moves should also be exposed through media and brought out of the dark into the light of public scrutiny. There is a mandate that media not treat these revisions as nonpartisan good government measures.