Voter Suppression—Not Part of the American Dream
Attendees at the Take Back the American Dream conference this week learned more about the conservative-backed effort to implement Voter ID laws and how they—and you—can fight back during a panel on voter suppression.
“The Tea Party wants to take America back,” said Deven Anderson of the group Black Youth Vote. “Back to where—1866?”
Anderson drew a connection between the recent wave of disenfranchising legislation that could disenfranchise 5 million eligible voters and post-Civil War Jim Crow laws, the same analogy former President Bill Clinton offered when discussing the laws at the Campus Progress National Conference in July.
In the years following the Civil War, southern white Democrats saw a threatening coalition between blacks and low-income whites. Today, panelists said some conservative and Tea Party-affiliated legislators see a threat in the minorities, students, and low-income people who tend to vote against them. In both cases, voter laws chip away at de facto enfranchisement while pretending to serve a different purpose.
Robert “Biko” Baker, the executive director of the League of Young Voters, said the threat of Voter ID laws is particularly high for young, black Americans.
“Young blacks are being systematically taken out of the civic process,” Baker said, noting that more than one-fifth of young people of color in Wisconsin don’t have the proper ID for voting under the state’s new ID law.
Black Youth Vote runs a program called Foot Soldiers for Democracy to encourage black men to be poll workers and balance out intimidation that might arise from other sources.
Attendees at the panel were vocal about the ways voter suppression efforts would impact their communities. One attendee said she drives a 96-year-old woman to the polls who doesn’t have proper ID and wouldn’t be able to vote under such laws.
Voter suppression efforts include voter ID laws and laws that shorten early voting periods, end Election Day registration, and place restrictions on third-party registration.
Students, people who have moved and not gotten an ID from a new state, seniors or the disabled whose ID has expired, and minorities are hardest-hit by these laws. These are also the groups most likely to take advantage of early voting and those who benefit most from third-party voter registration.
Megan Donovan, staff attorney at the Fair Elections Legal Network, said Americans can likely expect more voter suppression efforts in 2012, but citizens are fighting back.
“We shouldn’t send the message that voting is hard,” Donovan said. “We should focus on the success stories as well.”
In Maine, more than 70,000 signatures have been collected in favor of a “people’s veto” to reinstate Election Day registration. And Ohio’s current Voter ID law will be on the ballot in 2012, pending certification of 300,000 signatures.
“We need to change the current narrative and debate,” said Eric Marshall, manager of legal mobilization for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The way the debate was framed was ‘Election fraud is rampant’ and ‘These are simple, common-sense requirements that everyone has.’ ”
But this kind of fraud is extremely rare, and Marshall said it’s not about ID—it’s about highly specific ID requirements that leave many people out.
The group has launched a hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE and website where voters can learn the facts and their rights and report on suspicious Election Day activity.
Emily Crockett is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @emilycrockett.