Millions around the world watched on a cold January 20 as the first African American was sworn into the office of the American presidency. With an unprecedented move, Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters took to the voting booths with the same vigor as their white counterparts.
However, instead of positively reinforcing and continuing 2008 efforts to create large voter turnouts, state legislations across the nation have made it a top priority to suppress as many votes as possible in the next presidential election and all those moving forward.
“In 2008 we saw almost no gap in black voting percentage versus white voting percentage,” said NAACP Legal Defense Fund Director, John Payton. “What we’ve seen since 2008 are concerted efforts to take our voting percentage down at the traumatic expense of African American and Latino voters.”
Passing legislation in 14 states with a total of 25 new measures, Americans nationwide are experiencing the largest voter suppression campaign since the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement.
South Carolina, Tennessee, and six other states have now implemented strict identification requirements for any who plan to cast a vote in an official election, causing thousands of students and minority voters across the country to cry foul.
Under the new voter ID laws in states like Texas, students who are attending universities and colleges from out of state are still required to show either a state or U.S. issued ID, which excludes school IDs. Minorities are generally at higher risk for disenfranchisement with new ID laws because in order to obtain a state ID card, one has to present supporting items, such as an original birth certificate which may cost as much as $22 to replace in some states.
Furthermore, the elderly face possible disenfranchisement because they were born in times where minority birth records were not regularly issued or tracked, as in the case of Lillie Lewis, a 78-year-old Mississippian who was told by the state there was no record of her birth, leaving her no other avenues to secure a state ID for voting.
Supporters of the ID measure point to voter fraud as one reason for the new restriction, even though reports in Defending Democracy, a 63-page report released by the NAACP on voter suppression tactics, prove that impersonation at voting sites is a rare occurrence. Since 2000 there have only been 9 cases of in-person voter fraud at polls, a time period where over 400 million American people have exercised their right to vote.
Voter suppression tactics are even bolder in states where there are clear violations of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), which requires all businesses that serve persons with disabilities or on public assistance to also provide registration services. States such as Louisiana, where registration at public assistance offices has fallen 88 percent since its implementation, Georgia, Michigan and Texas all faced accusations of non-compliance with the NVRA in 2011.
“This is the biggest and most coordinated state legislative assault on the vote in more than 100 years,” said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous in a phone interview. “When you add it all up it is a very cynical strategy to control the outcome or at least unduly influence the outcome by who can vote and what ballots are cast.”
Other evidence of the dramatic step backwards can be seen in the sheer number of days shaved off early in-person voting periods. Prior to the 2008 election, Georgia encouraged voters to take part in the political process by expanding early voting opportunities from one week to 45 days. However, Georgia voters hoping to once again avoid long lines and wait times on Election Day by partaking in early voting now have half the time available in the last election to cast an early vote, with new laws restricting early voting to three weeks.
Advocates for a shorter early voting period place the blame on budget cuts and already underfunded programs even though studies show that a shorter early voting phase will adversely affect budgets. In stunting or completely shutting down early voting periods, more money is spent in creating new election precincts, adding voting machines, and hiring more workers all to prepare for the influx of voters that will be forced to vote on or closer to Election Day.
“This is happening right in front us, this isn’t a sneak attack,” said Payton, who strongly encourages every citizen to speak out against these restrictions that are targeting areas heavily populated by the minority groups that helped put President Obama in office. “We’ve always had to fight for everything we get and maybe we have to fight over and over for those things,” said Payton. “The voting rights act is again under challenge and on its way to the Supreme Court, and we’ll fight to defend it there. But our history is you have to keep fighting for things – we have no permanent victories.”