By Benjamin Todd Jealous
In legislatures across the county, misguided state politicians have proposed, and in too many cases have passed, laws that create obstacles to voting. That is why on December 10, International Human Rights Day, we took a principled stand for freedom in New York City to let the world know that we will not sit back and let our right to vote be taken away.
Over the last 12 months, 34 states have introduced voter suppression legislation, with laws passing in 14 of those states and bills pending in eight. These suppressive laws take many forms, but in each case they disproportionately impact people of color, working women, blue-collar workers, students, seniors and immigrants.
In some states like Wisconsin and Ohio, lawmakers are limiting access to the polls by cutting or even eliminating early and Sunday voting opportunities. These significant cuts force parents, blue-collar workers, students and seniors who do not have the luxury of a flexible schedule to stand in polling lines for as many as eight hours.
In states like South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Texas, politicians have used the threat of voting fraud to move bills requiring voters to acquire government-issued photo identification before they cast a ballot. However, studies show that a person is more likely to be struck by lightning than to impersonate someone in the polling booth.
Moreover, while states are required to provide photo identification for free, the underlying instruments needed to obtain the identifications, like a certified copy of a birth certificate, can in fact be very expensive. In this way, the new laws become a sort of poll tax for certain individuals.
Other creative voter suppression measures are making their way into law across the country. They include bills stripping voting rights from rehabilitated criminal offenders, eliminating same-day voter registration or voting, and targeted purging of African Americans and Latinos on registered voter rolls.
These attacks on voter participation mimic those used nearly a century ago in the lead-up to the Jim Crow era. The lesson we learned then surely applies today — that an attack on voting rights is merely a gateway to further restrictions on our rights, including our right to organize, our right to clean air, our right to negotiate, and even our right to privacy.
Our democracy is far too important to allow self-serving politicians to suppress the vote. We must defend our rights. We must have our voices heard.
For a copy of the NAACP’s new report, “Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America,” contact NAACP Communications Chief Ben Wrobel at [email protected] or by phone at 202-463-2690 ext. 1012. For more information, visit the website www.Stand4Freedom.org.
Benjamin Todd Jealous is president and CEO of the NAACP.