Our nation is in the midst of a 100-year flood of extremist attacks on voting rights. The goal: to block access to the polls for people of color, the elderly, and students — the groups most likely to support civil and human rights, immigration reform, and environmental and labor protections.
On this past election day, voters in Maine were able to close the floodgates in time and restore same-day voter registration. However, the simultaneous passage of voter photo ID restrictions Mississippi reminds us how strong these waves can be and why we must continue to fight so that many of our rights will not be swept away.
For all these reasons — because the situation is urgent, because the tide can be turned, and because our voting rights are our last line of defense against an assault on many other rights — the NAACP, 1199SEIU, the National Council of La Raza (NCLR), National Action Network, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT), National Urban League, and a broad coalition of civil rights and labor groups are organizing a Stand for Freedom — a national day of action in defense of the right to vote on Saturday, December 10th — International Human Rights Day.
The event will include a march from the NYC headquarters of leading voter suppression funders, The Koch brothers, to the United Nations.
Though this modern flood of attacks on voting rights has been developing for years, the multifaceted assault began less than 12 months ago when coalitions of extremist state politicians across the country started passing legislation to suppress voter turnout of groups that cast ballots in favor of social justice and civil rights.
In 2011 alone, 34 states have introduced voter suppression legislation, with laws passing in 14 of those states, and laws pending in 8.
In states like Wisconsin, Mississippi, Kansas and Alabama, politicians are erecting barriers to the polls in the form of rigid photo ID requirements.
Notwithstanding years of non-partisan studies indicating that an individual is more likely to be struck and killed by lightning than to impersonate another person at the polls, legislators in these states continue to espouse this myth.
These same studies also prove that people of color, members of the working class, seniors, women, and seniors will have a harder time casting their ballot thanks to these 21st century poll taxes.
The reason is that many in these communities are less likely to have IDs that conform to the strict new rules. And while states have been forced by the Supreme Court to offer state photo IDs for free, many in these aforementioned groups do not have access to — or cannot afford — the underlying documents, such as birth certificates, necessary to secure proper state identification.Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin are attacking voting rights from the flank by eliminating early voting opportunities. Reports from recent elections indicate that African Americans, in particular, are more likely to utilize early voting in order to avoid long lines at urban polling precincts on Election Day. These cuts to early voting also dampen turnout for many blue-collar working citizens, students, seniors, parents who don’t have the luxury or flexibility to stand in poll lines for as many as eight hours.
From stripping the rights of rehabilitated criminal offenders (Florida and Iowa) to eliminating same-day voter registration (Maine and North Carolina) to targeted purges of African Americans and Latinos from voter rolls (Florida and Mississippi), this wave of attacks has been consistent and relentless thanks in no small part to guidance and funding from Charles and David Koch and their corporate allies.
Through their funding and support of the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Koch brothers have convinced legislators in several states to propose and pass the voter ID bills that they drafted. The Koch brothers have also directly contributed an additional quarter million dollars to candidates who support the suppression legislation.
The Koch brothers’ tactics are not unique. Historically, far-right wing extremists have attacked the right to vote in order to make it easier to attack other rights. More than a century ago, they did it to make it easier to help establish segregation. Now they are doing it to make it easier to attack women’s rights, environmental protections, immigrant’s rights, equal opportunity programs, LBGT rights, and workers’ right to organize.
Unfortunately for these suppression groups, we defeated these tactics before and are prepared to do it again. In coordination with fellow civil rights activists we have already stopped suppression legislation in North Carolina, New Hampshire, Maine and Minnesota.
And in Ohio, the historic victory defending workers’ right to organize likely would not have been possible if a coalition of labor and civil rights groups — that included the NAACP and NAACP National Voter Fund – had not first blocked the state’s misguided voter ID bill. Had that bill been implemented we would have seen massive numbers of voters — disproportionately students and people of color — disqualified for lack of a sufficient photo identification.
With all of our victories, there have still been setbacks in our fight. In Mississippi, we saw black voters and white women form a powerful coalition to stop a bill that would have outlawed abortion — even in cases of rape and incest —- as well as many of the most common forms of birth control. And then we saw those same voters greatly increase the likelihood that a similar bill will eventually pass as votes broke along racial lines with whites voting for the state’s voter ID initiative and blacks opposing it.
It has been said that, while we all came to America in different boats, we are all in the same boat now. The victories in Ohio demonstrate that voting rights are literally what holds our boat together and remind us that not only will we survive the rising tide, but we can actually turn it back. And the voting rights loss in Mississippi reminds us that when we forget that, our ship is destined to sink.
Let’s take a stand for freedom. We can turn the tide, defend our right to vote, and in the process ensure our ability to defend our other rights too. When we come together as one, even the greatest flood cannot drown our voice nor wash away our rights.