"If I hear anybody saying their vote does not matter, that it doesn't matter who we elect -- read up on your history. It matters. We've got to get people to vote. I will consider it a personal insult -- an insult to my legacy -- if this community lets down its guard and fails to activate itself in this election. You want to give me a good sendoff? Go vote." – President Barack Obama
New voter I.D. requirements. Early voting cutbacks. Limitations on absentee voting.
When overall Black voting rates reached parity with white rates in 2012, many state lawmakers wasted no time passing new discriminatory voter suppression restrictions aimed at driving down Black voter turnout. The Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, opened the door for Black voter suppression.
With confusing new statutes on the books for the first time in a Presidential election, the National Urban League and other civil rights groups took to the road to educate and encourage voters, starting with the state of Ohio. Last weekend’s “Our Vote Matters” bus tour took us to Cleveland, Akron and Canton, to schools and churches and community centers. We knocked on doors, visited barber shops and beauty shops, and spread our message across the airwaves.
We were joined on this important mission by the National Action Network, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, led by Melanie Campbell and Show Your Power, led by activist Moses Boyd. Reality star and entrepreneur Chanita Foster and R&B singer Nicci Gilbert lent their considerable talents to spread the word, supported by the millennial media movement Revolution Nation.
We were inspired by the enthusiasm we found along the way – many voters we encountered had already taken advantage of early voting in Ohio, and others were looking forward to casting their votes. We educated voters about the need to bring I.D. to the polls, and what forms would be accepted, how to find their polling place and where to get their questions answered.
In Ohio, early voting was slashed by six days, eliminating the opportunity to register and vote on the same day. It is one of 14 states with new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. The others are Alabama, Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The new laws range from strict photo ID requirements to early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions.
The states most likely to pass new voting restrictions were those with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, those with the highest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, and those formerly covered under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 required states with a history of racially-motivated voter suppression to seek pre-clearance from the federal government before changing any voting rules.
Of the 11 states with the highest African-American turnout in 2008, 6 have new restrictions in place. North Carolina also fits this category, but its law is currently blocked for the 2016 election. The three-judge federal appeals panel that struck it down called it “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow” and said lawmakers had targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
We’ve come too far from the days of poll taxes and grandfather clauses to watch our rights be diminished. Visit www.866ourvote.org or call 866-OUR-VOTE for more information and follow us on social media with the hashtag #OurVoteMatters.”
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.