National civil rights leaders gathered June 13 to discuss controversial legislation enacted or under discussion in several states, which they said could deprive citizens of their right to vote.

At the meeting, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and other civil rights organizations came together to opposed voting legislation which would, among other measures, require proof of citizenship to register as a voter, require voters to present identification at the polls, and curb early voting programs.

The civil rights groups detailed their plan to fight the various measures, which they said would particularly impact minorities, the elderly, the youth and those with disabilities.

Rainbow PUSH Coalition Founder and President Rev. Jesse Jackson was among those speaking out against the new legislation.

“The 1965 Voting Rights Act ushered in a new era of democracy, and states could no longer discriminate against and deny citizens the right to vote,” said Rev. Jackson. “Now governors and legislators in over 30 states are engaged in a radical rollback of our civil and voting rights. They want to replace the program of voter ‘expansion’ with voter ‘suppression’ and place onerous restrictions and limits on our democracy.”

Voting legislation already passed in Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin could greatly affect the upcoming 2012 presidential election. According to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, African Americans are less likely to possess a valid, government-issued photo ID than White Americans.

In addition to the legislative efforts, civil rights leaders also pointed out several intimidation methods being used to suppress voters. The Lawyers’ Committee said it has received reports of several instances of fraudulent schemes to intimidate voters in previous elections.

In a statement, the committee praised the ongoing work of civil rights leaders across the country to protect voting rights of those affected by the new legislation.

“National civil rights organizations…will work throughout the election cycle to collect evidence to effectively change and improve bad legislation to ensure that organized efforts to keep certain voters from the polls are vigorously opposed,” the statement read in part.


Ashley Crawford

Special to the AFRO