Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) took to the House floor last night in a Special Order to call attention to a wave of Republican led efforts across the country to impose new restrictions on voting. The efforts are seen by the CBC and civil rights groups such as the N.A.A.C.P. as a new attempt to impede the voting rights of African-Americans and other groups traditionally allied with the Democratic Party. The maneuvers by the GOP to enact identification requirements for voters is viewed as a direct effort to suppress the vote in November to negatively impact the re-election efforts of President Obama.
Leading the Special Order was Del. Donna M. Christensen (D-VI) who called the changes in voter access a deliberate campaign to stop the re-election of the President. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), who sits on the House Judiciary Committee, noted, “We see all over the country efforts to reduce Election Day registration…rules for voter registration are becoming more onerous.” The Virginia legislator said that some groups such as the League of Women Voters are now hesitating to conduct voter registration because these new laws are cumbersome. Scott pointed out that the new voter rules are being applied in an arbitrary fashion, with some forms of government ID accepted and some not. He brought to light that in the state of Texas the ID required to carry a concealed weapon is accepted as a valid form of voter identification but a college issued identification card is not.
Speaking to the history of the Voting Rights Act, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) referenced the work of the late CBC member Rep. Barbara Jordan of Texas, who spearheaded the inclusion of “language minorities” as protected group under an amendment to the historic 1965 law. Jackson-Lee also referenced a 1996 case, South Carolina v. Katzenbach, which made clear the inadequacy of case-by-case litigation to enforce voting rights, and the efficacy of the Voting Rights Act in addressing systemic discrimination. Rep. Jackson-Lee noted that 11% of all Americans do not have a government issued ID, and 25% of African-Americans do not. She suggested the requirement to have a special voter ID, along with cuts to the election administration budgets in some states, and attempts to stifle same-day voter registration are all part of a deliberate attempt to suppress the vote. The Texas congresswoman held up a “Map of Shame” that illustrates all of the states in which such voter suppression efforts are underway.
Joining Christensen, Jackson-Lee and Scott in denouncing the Republicans efforts to restrict the vote were Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY), Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). The Congressional Black Caucus has been sounding the alarm on this issue for some time. In November 2011 House Democrats held a forum on state voting law changes and voter’s rights featuring experts such as Hillary Shelton of the Washington Office of the N.A.A.C.P., Laura Murphy, director of the Washington Office of the ACLU, Elisabeth MacNamara, president of the League of Women Voters and Barbara Arnwine, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under the Law. The groups that are said to be most vulnerable to having their voting rights curtailed are the elderly, minorities, the poor and students.
Rep. Jackson-Lee also indicated that members of the Congressional Black Caucus would be joining with the NAACP in a "Voter Protection Tour" that will coincide with the March commemoration of "Bloody Sunday" on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. The event marks a key turning point in the fight for voting rights in 1965 when civil rights marchers were brutally beaten as they attempted to cross the bridge en route to the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery.