NAACP Continues to Fight for Voting Rights for All

Article excerpt

When voters came out in November, they may have sent a powerful message to the Republican administration. But even 43 years after the poll tax was abolished, minority voters around the country are still fighting to participate in the political process. From overt voter intimidation, to the strategic placement of polling places away from specific communities, to laws that call for citizens to provide a state ID to vote, tactics to prevent minorities from voting continue to afflict the nation.

"There are still sections of this country's political elite trying to disenfranchise those who already have less power in this society," says Michael Dawson, a political science professor at the University of Chicago and a prominent scholar in the field of politics and race. "I don't think this will get better without active, continued effort on the part of those who believe in voter rights and social justice."

Enter the NAACP. The Missouri State Conference, Texas State Conference and Baltimore City branch are examples of a few of the organization's entities leading efforts around the country to ensure that every American citizen has easy access to casting a vote, regardless of race, class or gender.

On June 14, Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt (R) signed into law a bill that would require voters to provide government-issued photo identification at the polls in order to vote. Critics argued that the requirement would make voting difficult for people without access to a birth certificate, a necessary component in filing for a state-based ID. For example, out-of-state students, the elderly and low-income citizens would have been unconstitutionally disenfranchised, says Mary Ratliff, president of the Missouri State Conference and NAACP national board member. Ratliff likened the law to the poll taxes of the Jim Crow days that disenfranchised thousands of African American and Native American voters by requiring that they pay for the right to vote in elections.

"We found [the Voter ID Act] was such an obstacle to voting that we could not allow this," Ratliff says. "The right to vote is just a human right and there shouldn't be stipulations to go against that."

In response to the bill, the Missouri State Conference launched a grassroots campaign in conjunction with other organizations such as Grass Roots Organizing (GRO) and Missouri Pro-Vote. After Blunt signed the bill, the Missouri State Conference hosted multiple news conferences, printed brochures and held a June 24 rally on the steps of the statehouse that nearly 300 people attended. On Sept. 14, Cole County Circuit Judge Richard G. Callahan ruled Missouri's ID law unconstitutional, writing that it "violates ...the requirement that 'all elections shall be free and open' and "constitutes an undue burden on the fundamental right to vote."

"So many people have fought and shed blood for the right of every American to vote and cast the vote for the candidate of their choice," Ratliff says. "We have to protect that."

Similar efforts are underway in Texas. One Texas municipality - Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One - has filed a federal lawsuit to challenge the section of the Voting Rights Act that requires jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to prove that the voting changes they plan to make are not intended to discriminate against minorities. The municipality is arguing that the VRA has already solved the problem of discriminatory voting practices in the state. …