We Must Take Every Opportunity to Fight Voter Suppression

Derrick Johnson, the interim president and CEO of the NAACP, says that NAACP continues to take on legal battles against the newest generation of voter suppression models.

By Derrick Johnson (Interim President and CEO, NAACP)

We all know the power of the vote.

One person, one vote serves as the basic ethos and measurement of any democratic nation. Without true voter protection, integrity and universal access, America’s light on the hill dims.

Since Shelby V. Holder dismantled the Voting Rights Act, many southern states, with a history of voter suppression and related oppression of Black communities, could, once again, enact laws that would attempt to manipulate the sole entity which made all Americans equal: the vote.

During the Presidential election of 2016, the first in 50 years without full protection of the VRA, six of the 14 states implementing restrictive voter laws were previously covered by Section 5 of the VRA. Additionally, five of those states—Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina, Alabama and Virginia—put in place new voter ID laws.

Since 2010, twenty states have placed additional obstacles to the ballot box and according to the Brennan Center for Justice, “states most likely to pass new voting restrictions were those with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, those with the highest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, and/or those formerly covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”

In 1858, when running for the U.S. Senate from Illinois, Abraham Lincoln said:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing, or all the other…”

Lincoln would go on to lose that election to Stephen A. Douglas, but the words he uttered would last the test of time. Today, we ask the same question: Can a nation half-slave and half-free continue?

It’s the same question athletes like Colin Kaepernick ask when they are singled out for freedom, yet their brothers remain in chains. If the vote is actively suppressed in communities of color and poor communities, are we really free or just half-free?

Sometimes history will repeat itself, if we give it enough time and a little help.

What is the difference between our present, partial believers in democracy, who callously promote gerrymandering, mischievous voter ID laws, poll moving and poll closing or voter purges, and those who engineered the post-Reconstruction elimination of Black Power in the South?

During the first post-Civil War election in which Blacks could vote, they provided 700,000 votes to help elect Ulysses S. Grant to the White House in 1868. The often-untold secret is that before the Civil Rights Era, where Black voters in the South once again sought out the ballot box in greater numbers, we stood ready at the first opportunity to use the vote, when treated as free people. At that time, and clearly to some today who seek to suppress the vote, this was not acceptable.

During the 1898 constitutional convention in Louisiana, Thomas J. Semmes, chair of the Judiciary Committee of the Convention and former president of the American Bar Association said, “We (meet) here to establish the supremacy of the White race, and the White race constitutes the Democratic Party of this State. The Convention of 1898 interpreted its mandate from the people to be, to disenfranchise as many Negroes and as few Whites as possible.”

This process was replicated throughout the South as Andrew L. Shapiro points out in his Yale Law Journal article, “Challenging Criminal Disenfranchisement Under the Voting Rights Act: A New Strategy” (1993). He highlights how Mississippi’s constitutional convention of 1890 became a prototype for implementing constitutional provisions designed to disenfranchise those individuals, who committed “certain crimes, which Blacks were supposedly more likely than Whites to commit.”

This meant that, “the law removed the vote from those convicted of such ‘furtive offenses’ as burglary, theft, arson, obtaining money under false pretenses, but the ‘robust crimes of Whites,’ which included robbery and murder or ‘crimes in which violence was the principal ingredient,’ were not.”

Today, we know the impact of felony disenfranchisement and the role it plays in keeping millions of individuals, who have served their time, from being able to vote.

The end result of these post-Reconstruction constitutional conventions, which suppressed the vote through legal and often terroristic means and the Black Codes, was that, in states like Mississippi, the number of eligible Black voters registered dropped from 70 percent in 1867 to less than 6 percent in 1892. In Louisiana, Blacks made up over 44 percent of the electorate after the Civil War, but less than 1 percent after 1920.

This is the ugly history of voter suppression, where those who often drape themselves in patriotic rhetoric and colors, also wear the millions of stolen and suppressed votes around their necks like rotting, white albatrosses of political expediency, while keeping their foot solidly on the throat of true democracy, which remains handcuffed and unable to breathe.

It would be great if we could solely discuss our nation’s affair with voter suppression in some historical context with little to no impact on our current nation’s politics. Yet, regardless of how idealistic we are in believing that we can make democracy real for all people, we know, in our hearts, it is not.

Last year, the NAACP won nine major federal cases, critically confronting all manners of ugly, unconstitutional voter suppression, including voter purging, intimidation, and misinformation. In North Carolina, our state conference saved nearly five percent of the electorate when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that the state legislature had enacted discriminatory voting laws that intentionally targeted and disenfranchised Black voters.

The NAACP continues to take on legal battles against the newest generation of voter suppression models being implemented through bottle-necked voting districts in Virginia, partisan gerrymandering in Texas or North Carolina that intentionally target and severely dilute not only the vote of African Americans, but also Latino populations.

In Indiana, our state conference recently sued the Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who is a member of the Pence-Kobach Commission, to prevent her from turning over personal voter information and to also prevent the her from using the allegedly discriminatory and inaccurate “Cross Check” system as a means of purging voters.

In Texas, the NAACP has also been successful in challenging racially-biased and unfair redistricting plans and recently won a voter ID case, where more than 600,000 individuals were disenfranchised by the law. We also saved 608,470 votes with a victorious decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

In states like Georgia, our state conference is challenging a law that allows voting lists to be purged simply due to failure to vote and in Ohio we are supporting the A. Phillip Randolph Institute et al, in their case, which, like Georgia, seeks to remove people from the voting rolls, due to their inability or failure to vote.

Oftentimes, the flashier issues and nonstop, highly visible attacks against the foundation of our nation’s values take our minds off of the critical bread and butter issue that without which there is no true democracy—the vote.

We cannot sleep through this period of time, and through all means necessary, we must #StayWoke.

Derrick Johnson is interim president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Follow him @DerrickNAACP and @NAACP.

About NNPAFreddie 2369 Articles
Freddie Allen is the Editor-In-Chief of the NNPA Newswire and BlackPressUSA.com. Focused on Black people stuff, positively. You should follow Freddie on Twitter and Instagram @freddieallenjr.

1 Comment

  1. We are writing to you to report a cane of voter suppression. Voter suppression is a strategy to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing specific groups of people from voting. Voter suppression attempts to reduce the number of voters who might vote against a candidate or proposition. The tactics of voter suppression range from minor changes to make voting less convenient, to physically intimidating prospective voters, which is illegal. Most of these voter suppression tactics were made illegal after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
    This is voter suppression because it is designed to influence the outcome of an election. It is designed to prevent specific groups of people from voting. Voter intimidation is prohibited under federal law, which states that “no person. shall intimidate, threaten, coerce. any other person for the purpose of interfering with the right of [that] person to vote or to vote as he may choose.” Anyone trying to keep a person from voting or to get them to vote a certain way constitutes voter intimidation, according to Election Protection, a nonpartisan voting rights coalition. Also, the city has shown deliberate indifference, a deliberate overlooking and failure to address the facts.
    Dodge City, Kan., became infamous this fall for placing its only polling location a mile away from the nearest bus stop. Although a Latino group and Lyft are pitching in to drive people to the polls this single location will suppress voting. It’s part of a trend in closing polling sites. As recently as 2002, Dodge City had multiple polling stations, according the ACLU.
    We are writing to you because of all the trouble we are having communicating our grievances with the City of Fitchburg, MA We wrote to them and we hear nothing. We wrote to the Sentinel and Enterprise, letter to the editor, and we hear nothing. I do not know to whom to tell to tell the people of Fitchburg, MA.
    We are residents of Ward 5 in the City of Fitchburg, MA. This is to complain about the Ward 5 move to Saima Park. For many of us without cars, it is very hard to get there. We believe that everyone should have the right to vote. Making the polling place so far away effectively takes that right away. Because of this distance, hundreds will not be able to vote. Just after this move happened, Ward 5 had the lowest turnout in its history. Many disabled, elderly and people without cars are not able to reach the new polling place. It is hard to believe that the City of Fitchburg, MA. with all of the resources at its disposal, cannot find a closer polling place.
    True, at the last election, the city sent out one shuttle bus. This was never advertised. So, it was used by no one. Because no one used it, it was discontinued. It makes more sense to have a central location than to send out a fleet of busses.
    We believe that the decision to move was made by people who cannot relate to others in this situation. This situation should be fixed. The polling place should be moved closer to down town. Perhaps the university, with its vast tax paid resources, could find space for its citizens to vote. If a politician wants to speak, space is found.
    After we wrote the letter to the Fitchburg City Council, we have found out that the city pays $800 per day to rent Saima Park. This is outrageous. At a time when there are empty store fronts up and down main street, you could rent one at that price for a month.
    This does not include the shuttle bus. You pay $800 to get a polling place in the middle of the woods, then you pay a lot more to get people to it.

    Sincerely,

    Lisa Parsons Fred Hutchings

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