The 2008 presidential campaign brought us not only a historic election but also record participation of minority voters. More than two million more African-American voters and an additional two million Latino voters cast ballots than had done so in the previous presidential election cycle in 2004.
For the very first time, African-American women had the highest turnout rate of any racial, ethnic or gender group and voting among younger African Americans jumped by more than 17 percent.
Proponents of those laws cite no recent illegal voting epidemic but claim they are in response to voter fraud, which is virtually non-existent in the U.S. And, of course, there are criminal penalties to deal with anyone who violates the laws on the books.
The new restrictions attack ballot access by requiring photo IDs to vote, curtailing early voting windows, stripping formerly incarcerated — men and women who have served their debt to society — of the right to vote and purging voters rolls, often with thousands of errors. Approximately 21 million Americans don’t have a government-issued photo ID, including 25 percent of voting-aged African Americans.
This is not the first time politicians have curtailed minority voting access. Similar restrictive laws were enacted as a response to the passage of the 15th Amendment granting ex-slaves the right to vote. On both occasions, the result of these types of laws is the same: limiting the ability of people of color to cast their ballots.
This attack on voting rights is coordinated. It is insidious. And it is the worst we’ve seen since the Jim Crow era. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called voting the “foundation stone for political action.” The laws restricting access are like jackhammers persistently chipping away at that stone.
The NAACP recognizes this threat and its potential effects. We are taking action this election year to maintain the successful turnout levels of 2008 by registering new voters to ensure that every eligible voter has the opportunity to cast a legitimate vote in the 2012 election.
The NAACP and our partners in the faith, labor and civic organizing communities have just launched our most ambitious voter-registration and education drive in recent history. It is called This is My Vote and it will register, educate and turn out hundreds of thousands of voters this year, with a special focus on African Americans and other minorities, younger and elderly voters.
This is My Vote will enlist volunteers to go door-to-door in neighborhoods throughout the country, registering new voters and educating existing voters on the new laws and restrictions in each state. Our national voter-registration hotline (1-866-MyVote1) allows citizens in every state to receive voter registration documents by mail and our new website (thisismyvote.org) will provide online tools for people to download registration documents and learn about
voting requirements state-by-state. In addition, we have entered into historic partnerships with the National Baptist Convention and other denominations to ensure the reach of the campaign is as broad as possible.
Today, more than 46 years after passage of the Voting Rights Act, most of us would like to believe the fight for voting rights and access had been won long ago. Last year revealed that the battle still rages on — and so does the NAACP. We are more determined than ever to succeed in our fight for equality.
The coordinated attack on the right to vote requires a coordinated, nationwide response. Our vote is our power and, with your help, our vote will be protected for generations to come.
Marvin Randolph is the NAACP’s senior vice president for Campaigns and a community organizer, activist and non-profit and campaign manager with over 25 years of experience. He has worked more than 100 campaigns in 17 states across the nation. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org