Today is National Voter Registration Day and it comes as we are just weeks away from one of the most important elections in the modern presidency. As the first African-American to serve as President seeks a second term and the nation struggles to rebound from a historic recession, the Black electorate must make certain that its voice is heard at the polls on November 6. The focus on voter registration today is a powerful reminder that our job was not finished in November 2008, it was only beginning.
The number of African-Americans who are not registered to vote is shameful. Not only is not voting counterintuitive in a nation where power is apportioned according to electoral strength, real or perceived, it betrays the sacrifice generations of Blacks made to gain the right to vote. Yes, it might sound cliché to suggest that someone bled so you could have the right to vote; but, sadly, it is a historical truth. The lynchings, random shootings, assassinations and outright physical violence used to deny African-Americans the right to vote, coupled with statutory complicity and governmental support should be more than enough motivation for our community to go to the polls in droves. Sadly, the heroism of Freedom Riders, Fannie Lou Hamer, Aaron Henry, Ella Baker, Medgar Evers, John Lewis and countless others has been disrespected by a complacency that belies the dire straits in which the African-American community is engulfed.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, in the November 2010 election only 43% of African-Americans voted, compared to 49% of whites. When such disparities exist, we are simply giving power away. It is akin to when you were a child and your mother would tell you to shut the door and stop letting the heat escape the house. The Black community has been letting our power, in the form of our vote, walk out the front door and have been marginalized in the process. Our ability to hold elected officials and government accountable has been compromised by our lackluster voter registration and balloting. This is not unique to the presidential election; we see the same disappearing act during local school board, municipal and state legislative elections. Meanwhile, we get offended when elected officials give us the cold shoulder. They can only retreat in that manner when they have no fear of repercussion at the ballot box.
Across the country we are witnessing an unprecedented attack on voting rights with Republican led efforts targeting states with large Black populations and Democratic strongholds likely to cast ballots for President Obama. It is a cynical and sinister strategy that is rooted in the GOP false claim, or better yet, lie, that there is widespread voter fraud. Even with evidence to the contrary, Republicans are pushing an agenda to disfranchise African-Americans, Latinos and the poor on the basis of a manufactured voter fraud crisis. It is one of the most repugnant orchestrated efforts to suppress votes since the days of Jim Crow.
We are calling upon our community to register and vote. It is that simple. Take it upon yourself to make certain that everyone in your household, and other family members and friends are registered. Once registered, make certain that on Election Day your circle of family and friends cast their ballots. Use whatever means as necessary to get the word out. We have provided some voter registration information that should be helpful to you and have focused on states that are considered pivotal in November’s presidential election. You can also visit this federal government website that provides useful and important information regarding the voting process. If you have a child in college or a family friend away at school, check this useful map from the Brennan Center to determine the voter registration laws for the state in which the student is enrolled. Do not let college enrollment deter your child from voting this November. As a fail-safe maneuver obtain an absentee ballot and have your child prepared to cast that ballot.
As we approach the day in America when people of color comprise the nation’s new majority, we must embrace our coming role and lead by example. Every Black household should be a voting household and we all must do whatever it takes to be present at the polls. The way to fight back is to register and vote. It’s that simple.