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Child Watch® Column: "Voting Rights Under Attack"

Release Date: May 13, 2011

Marian Wright Edelman

At the signing of the historic Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965 striking down the discriminatory practices many states had put in place to prohibit Blacks from exercising their right to vote, President Lyndon B. Johnson said, "Today is a triumph for freedom as huge as any victory that has ever been won on any battlefield." Many Americans think of the fight for voting rights as a struggle that was settled once and for all during the Civil Rights Movement in that celebrated "triumph for freedom," and is now a piece of history. But that's a dangerous assumption. While the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws prohibit discrimination based on race, sex, language, ethnicity, religion, and age, there is still no law that affirmatively guarantees citizens the right to vote. Just as we are experiencing a quiet but systematic rise in school segregation across the country, many people don't realize that there is once again a quiet but systematic movement that would deny many African Americans and other American citizens the ability to vote with 21st century versions of old exclusionary practices.

The Advancement Project is a civil rights law, policy, and communications "action tank" whose work includes fighting to protect the right to vote. In their new report What's Wrong With This Picture?, they warn that proposals being considered by nearly two-thirds of the states to require photo identification for voting are threatening to become a modern-day version of the Jim Crow-era poll tax, and are "a reactionary trend that is part of the largest legislative effort to scale back voting rights in a century." As they explain, "These photo ID proposals stand to create second-class citizenship for classes of voters, particularly racial minorities, senior citizens, young voters, people with disabilities, immigrants, the working poor and students, who are disproportionately less likely to have current state ID or face substantial hurdles to getting one, who stand to be turned away or denied a regular ballot." A recent New York Times editorial on the same threat cited a survey by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law that found 11 percent of citizens, or 21 million people, don't have a current photo ID—including 15 percent of low-income eligible voters, 18 percent of young eligible voters, and 25 percent of Black eligible voters. College students are among the voters who would be affected in states like Texas and Wisconsin that are considering denying their student ID photo cards as valid forms of identification.

Requirements for state-issued photo ID are just one of the modern ways voting rights are being threatened, including laws in several states disenfranchising people who have committed crimes after they have completed their sentences. The Advancement Project's Right to Vote Initiative explains that they are continually trying to stop many other kinds of threats on a widespread scale: "Democracy advocates literally have to monitor and negotiate with thousands of local jurisdictions over issues such as how missing information on voter registration forms is handled, when and under what circumstances voters are ‘purged,' i.e., removed from the rolls, what types of election equipment are used and how that equipment is allocated among precincts and how poll workers are trained." As they sum it up, "Without a federal guarantee of the right to vote, states use their control over this basic citizenship right in a patchwork quilt of arbitrary rules with vast consequences for close elections."

We can't afford to remain silent—or ignorant—about the overt and covert ways some states are trying to restrict access to voting rights and their potential "vast consequences" for undermining voting rights and choosing our leaders. Although proposals pending in many state legislatures have not yet become law, it is crucial for leaders and citizens to wake up, speak up, and be ever vigilant. As he signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders at his side, President Johnson stated he had long believed "this right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies." We must not go backwards and we must ensure that the next election is not mischievously undermined by making it more difficult for millions to vote.


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Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Thomas at: August 8, 2013
False flag. Most states have policies to allow indigent people to get free state ID's. Stop using racism for a political agenda. Go get a free ID, vote, and stop complaining.

Submitted by Kim at: December 23, 2011
That was a very interesting article.

Submitted by Duchess at: June 20, 2011
Unfortunately this is happening in my state of California as well. This is part of the backlash that Michelle Alexander speaks of so eloquently in her book "The New Jim Crow." It explains the history of disenfranchisement - how the criminal justice system is the new Jim Crow, locking up black men for petty drug offenses (mass incarceration), then labeling them as felons. Once they are felons the states have free labor for ever!! Every person who believes in democracy needs to be involved. Start with making sure you teach your black children to read. Education is the key.

Submitted by Daphne at: June 2, 2011
We will not turn back, nor should be turn our backs, for one instance.

Submitted by Val at: May 17, 2011
This is appalling. This practice is already underway in the State of GA where I live. So, what we have to do is GET TO WORK! Start another movement. Beginning with our communities. Going door to door. Get engaged again. We have to start NOW. I am willing. Who all is willing to stand up and get the movement going. It all starts with you. Look in the mirror. Ask our 18 year old and up children if they registered to vote. If the answer is no, we must check to see if they have a state photo id. If not, we must find out where to go to get it. Utilize FB, twitter and all social media to engage. Let's GO! We cannot afford to complain. We must act. Let put our heads together to see how we can work together. The question now is how do we organize it. Once we get it started, get organized, get the message out there and info on where to go to get the required photo id, and the cost. How much is it. I see not everyone has a drivers license. Can we go to the local libraries to get photo ids? I am willing to find out. Let's begin by looking in our own households starting with our own children, family members and friends and go from there!

Submitted by concerned at: May 15, 2011
This is yet another wakeup call for Americans. We, especially black folks have become complacent and comfortable. However, the election of President Obama has opened up a can of worms that a lot of us thought was dead and buried. If we don't act now, things will only get worse.

Submitted by Gwen at: May 14, 2011
I'm wondering whether we should try to amend the bill by requiring that all voters can get free IDs on instant notice, and then say it's too expensive to pass the bill, but unthinkable without it.

Submitted by Leslie at: May 14, 2011
I believe the right to vote is extremely important. I have worked in many campaigns to inform and encourage people to vote. I can afford to pay for a CT State ID card. Many of lower income or due to various disabilities my not be able to. Their income or lack of transportation could mean they cannot vote. People are supposed to be able to sign a paper that states they are who they claim to be. Requiring a Photo ID is a step backward.

Submitted by D at: May 13, 2011
Your focus is missplaced... in Europe this is how it works : 1- voting by citizens requires identity papers 2- all citizens have the right to have these papers.. it is even an obligation this is simple and you should agree to point 1 and fight for point 2.. I would even add that the further real problem is that half the Americans do not vote... only 20% in Europe... and that should be your point 3... Belgium makes voting an obligation and all europe vote on no excuse.. and as their government is efficient they vote.. they can make mistakes but at least if you vote you know the chaps will do something... so they vote.. A real democracy exists only if people vote, otherwise it is the minority that rules and that is not a democracy... Your point 4 should be in my view to modify the US constitution so it be a real democracy... upset by this ?... read the federalist papers written by Jay, Madison and Hamilton in 1787 and you will discover that the whole system is built to avoid the tiranny of the majority... so the minority rules.. (which is what you currently have indeed..) had they or not in mind the fact that inevitable the rich are the minority ?... your guess is as good as mine... whichever way you answer the question a system like that is not a democracy and indeed secrete the kind of local rules your are trying to fight.. Not surprising it took 600000 dead and an additional 100 years for the civil rights to be. sad indeed but I fear true.

Submitted by Noneck at: May 13, 2011
I see nothing wrong with being required to show your ID Card before entering the voting booth. In this time of difficulty, I think that showing your ID or picture ID is for your own protection.

Submitted by mamalyn at: May 13, 2011
Thanks for this valuable information. I do not think that there is enough attention to this issue, probably because all of us are so absorbed with possible loss of program funds and how to keep services in place after July 1. This is frightening to think that there are those so willing to deny basic freedoms to vulnerable populatios. However, I am not surprised because state legislatures and congress are balancing their respective budgets on the backs of the most vulnerable: women, children and the poor.

Submitted by Liz at: May 13, 2011
You are absolutely 100% correct. Shame on them! And if we ever want an ID system it needs to be supported and paid for by those that want it-The Republicans, who need to keep it up to date and issue every single American a free passport.