Rep. Clyburn: I’m Disturbed By Voter Suppression Efforts And Impact On Students
Congressman Jim Clyburn said he’s troubled by the recent wave of conservative-backed voter suppression efforts, which he noted disproportionately impact young Americans and college students.
“When we see college students in my state of South Carolina, you have college IDs you can use to transact any business in any bank but you can’t use it to identify who you are in order to register to vote,” Clyburn said. “[That] smacks of antidemocratic principles and behavior.”
Clyburn, a Democratic representative from South Carolina, made the remarks during a press call about a new report by Campus Progress detailing voter suppression efforts nationwide. Produced with our parent organization Center for American Progress and Legal Progress, “Voter Suppression 101” highlights the aggressive efforts of conservative legislators and corporation-backed organizations like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to systematically disenfranchise young Americans, people of color, and senior citizens.
Not since the days of Jim Crow, Clyburn said, has he seen such an organized and direct attack on the voting rights of Americans. For many African-Americans, this new wave of voter suppression and voter ID laws are oddly familiar and drudge up collective memories of Jim Crow-era poll taxes and literacy tests that were once used to suppress participation in democracy.
As many as 25 percent of African-Americans don’t possess a current, valid form of government-issued ID today—compared to just 11 percent of all races.
“Today we see an attempt to turn the back the clock to that period. We see these voter suppression laws cropping up all over the country,” said Clyburn, a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. “I cannot remember—even sitting in county jail—having as much as anxiety as I am experiencing today. Back then, even when we were at the back of the bus and we were not able to sit down at the lunch counters, we really felt strongly that if I could get my plight in front of the United States Supreme Court than the promise of this country will be delivered for me. I don’t feel that today,”
Joining Clyburn to discuss the report were former congressman Tom Perriello, the president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, and Anne Johnson, the new director of Campus Progress.
Perriello said the report’s goal is to inform other states, groups, activists, and marginalized Americans in communities that are impacted by these restrictive voting measures that “they are not alone.”
“When everyone thinks they’re the only ones being disenfranchised, it can be very disempowering,” he said. “But when you start bringing them all together … you start to see a little more of the broader issue of this undermining of the democratic process.”
Johnson said the motivation behind conservative-led efforts to suppress millions of voters stem from their fear of an active, more engaged, and more informed millennial generation—which will swell to 64 million eligible voters in 2012 and about 90 million in 2020. In recent elections, these young voters have turned out in high number and are trending to vote progressively.
“These attacks, led by ALEC and other organizations and conservative legislatures around the country, are really focused on keeping young people out of the electorate,” Johnson said. “They don’t like the way young people are voting. So rather than fight on policy issues, they are just going to keep young people out of the electorate by making it harder to get registered and to vote.”
In 2008, more than half of the 45 million young people who were eligible to vote swarmed the polls, a record number. The historical increase, Johnson suggested, was due to the intentional work aimed at educating young people on the importance of civic engagement.
“The idea that we are trying to restrict access to these young people to voting is unbelievable,” she said.
With little spending money, living away from home, and juggling an inflexible schedule due to heavy class and job loads, it’s nearly impossible for many college students to navigate strict voter ID laws that deem student IDs invalid, limit early voting restrictions, and criminalize third-party registration drives, Johnson added.
Conservatives generally push voter suppression bills by stoking the fear pit with stories of post-apocalyptic zombie-type voting—but the facts suggest that yelling “voter fraud” is really just a false alarm. (Voter fraud is rarer than being struck by lightning.)
“This is not a response to systematic fraud,” Perriello said. “Despite the fact that conservatives have made every attempt to unveil some sense of systematic fraud, it simply isn’t there. They don’t want people to vote, and the reforms progressives had put in place were working.”
Perriello asked those in power—including the media—to call out conservative legislators and to explain this country’s history of disenfranchisement and what it means for people of color, senior citizens, and young people.
“It’s important to pushback both legally and politically—and lead with facts and information,” he said.
A ColorofChange.org petition, also launched on Wednesday, asks consumers to call on household companies like Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart to stop funding ALEC. As Perriello said: “In addition to voting as citizens, people can vote as consumers.” Within hours, Coca-Cola had already pulled its membership from ALEC in response to the petition.
Moving forward, Johnson highlighted Campus Progress’ continued efforts to inform young Americans about voter suppression efforts.
“We’re doing everything that we can to make sure that our network of young students and people are educated on the laws in their states and what the requirements are for them to be able to vote,” she said. “We are working with our partner organizations around the country in states that have these laws to make sure people are aware of what the laws are.”
Naima Ramos-Chapman is an associate editor at Campus Progress.
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