“The vote is the most powerful instrument ever devised by man for breaking down injustice and destroying the walls which imprison men because they are different from other men.” – President Lyndon Johnson
By Darwin Campbell, African-American News&Issues
HOUSTON- That powerful instrument that broke down the walls of injustice and discrimination is facing grave threats.
The question is do Black Americans care enough about their voice and voting rights enough to fight to be willing to fight to keep them?
The new problems and challenges at the polls threaten the heart of our democracy and the voices many in the community depend on to represent them on key issues like health care, housing, welfare, social security and public assistance.
In Texas, voting rights issues are drawing national attention and now have surfaced at the top of the agenda for Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network (NAN).
The state is one of eight total targeted in the fight against voter suppression and the effort to register voters ahead of the November 2014 mid-term elections.
The upcoming Freedom Summer Campaign is encouraging people to get involved in protecting and take back their voting rights everywhere that basic democratic right is being challenged.
“People from all over the country are encouraged to volunteer,” Sharpton said. “Following training, volunteers will work on a two-prong strategy to combat new voter suppression tactics, whether that’s driving seniors to get new IDs, or babysitting children so that their parents can take time to get copies of their birth certificate, or holding town halls to educate communities”.
Other states on the list Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia.
The goal of the campaign will to engage volunteers to support with voter registration and fighting voter suppression by providing critical support to voters.
At the recent 16th annual convention held by NAN, Rev. Sharpton shared his goals around this issue and President Barack Obama also discussed the need for protection of voting rights and encouraged everyone to participate in our election process.
According to Sharpton, now is the time to stand up and fight to eliminate inequality and those who have become the new enemies of democracy and freedom.
First, they will join those who are challenging subliminal methods of eliminating voter rights like new ID laws and a reduction/end to early voting days and ‘souls to the polls’. The second part of this strategy is registering people to vote in areas where voter suppression cannot be eliminated.
For years, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has safeguarded the rights of Americans to vote and stood in the way of those wanting to enact discriminatory laws that prevents and denies millions from having their voice heard at the polls.
Before its passage, in 1940, less than 30,000 African-Americans registered to vote in Texas and only about 3% of African-Americans living in the south were registered to vote. Poll taxes, literacy tests and threats of violence were the main causes of racial discrimination at the polls.
After its passage, it prohibited restriction on registration, discrimination at the polls and limits on participation and with great results. Since that time, electoral participation has steadily increased and in 2012, more that 1.2 million African-Americans living in Texas were registered to vote.
Section 5 of the act also offered greater protection for localities with chronic records of discrimination secure federal approval before making changes to it voting process. Section 5 protects minority voting rights where voter discrimination is at its worst.
In 2011, Texas passed the Voter ID law requiring every registered voter to present a valid government issue photo identification on the day of polling in orders to vote.
The latest challenge to Voting Rights that is serious enough to undo 50 years of progress is the Supreme Court Decision to nullify Section 5 the case of Shelby County vs Holder, which challenged the widespread enactment of law restricting voting rights in states and opening the door for restricting voter access to the polls.
It that case the court handed down a decision invalidating provisions in the law requiring U.S. District Court pre-approval or preclearance for states with problem voting areas and issues.
“The right to vote free from discrimination is the capstone of full citizenship conferred by the Civil War Amendments and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 are not ordinary pieces of legislation. It is a sacred treasure earned by the sweat and toil and blood of ordinary Americans who showed the world that it was possible to accomplish the extraordinary,” said 18th District Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. “We must be vigilant and fight against efforts to to abridge or suppress the voting rights of Americans until voter discrimination is truly a vestige of the past.”
WHO IS IMPACTED
Those who cherish the right to vote should be skeptical of Voter ID and other attempts to discourage or slow voter turnouts understanding how those past laws (poll taxes and literacy tests) effected the voting ability of Black senior citizens and those with race and language challenges at the polls.
According to information from the National Commission on Voting Rights, those groups most likely impacted by government ID laws include about 25% African-Americans, 20% Asians, 19% Hispanics, 18% young people ages 18 to 24 and 15% of persons with incomes less than $35,000.
The commission has been hearing and reviewing complaints across the country pertaining to restrictive voting laws, election administration and electoral reform challenges.
In Texas, numerous complaints have been lodged about issues with voter registration, Voter ID, voting discrimination, student voting and an increasing number involving individuals with disabilities, language issues and communities of color.
Other factors that have been a challenge to the new voting landscape that is suppressing voting rights are the curtailing or elimination of early voting; shortened poll hours; the ending of same day registration; not counting provisional ballots case in the wrong precinct on election day; and the elimination of Sunday voting and teen-aged pre-registration.
Some have even been subjected to voter intimidation of Blacks and Hispanics at the polls by groups and organizations like “True the Vote’ and Houston-based “King Street Patriots”.
Jackson-Lee compared the need for voting rights to the vaccine invented by Dr. Jonas Salk in 1953. It eradicated the crippling effects, but did not eliminate the cause of polio, just as The Voting Rights Act succeeded in stymieing the practices that resulted in the wholesale disenfranchisement of African-Americans and language minorities, but it did not eliminate it completely in America.
“The Voting Rights Act is needed as much today to prevent another epidemic of voting disenfranchisement as Dr. Salk’s vaccine is still needed to prevent another polio epidemic,” Jackson-Lee said.
PROTECTING VOTING RIGHTS MAKES A DIFFERNCE
Your vote rights matters and going to the polls does make a difference in representation and voice.
In 1964, there were approximately 300 African-Americans in public office, including just 3 in Congress. Also few if any were elected anywhere in the south.
In 2013, because of the Voting Rights Act, there are more than 9,100 black elected officials, including 43 members of Congress, the largest number ever.
That same act has opened up political access for many of the 6,000 Hispanic and Latino public officials elected and appointed nationwide, including 263 at state and federal levels and 27 who serve in the Congress of the United States.
If you don’t stand up now if will change future elections.
Failure to maintain that Voting Rights progress means History is at risk of repeating itself.
Volunteers can register on the NAN website, pick the state they would like to volunteer in and commit to a day, a week, three weeks, or however long they can to address voter suppression by May 15th at: www.nationalactionnetwork.net.