According to APNews last week, the NAACP held its annual convention in Los Angeles where they focused exclusively on ways to bolster minority voter turnout in the upcoming presidential election.
After a century-long struggle to mobilize voters – and tentative gains made politically since the election of Barack Obama – the civil rights group will face momentous challenges in 2012. Three years of stagnation, uncertainty and high unemployment have left many in the African-American community disenchanted about poor jobs prospects and an anemic economy. Scrambling to stem the growing tide of apathy and increase voter turnout, NAACP officials have resorted to demagoguery in an attempt to prod their political base.
Panelists at a session on building black political power painted a grim picture of how low income minority voters are being disenfranchised by new laws in many states.
Such laws require a state-issued photo ID in order to vote, a current address on IDs, restrictions on restoring voter rights to ex-felons and prohibiting early and Sunday voting.
"These laws were all passed with the intent of reducing the minority vote," said David Bositis, senior research associate of the Joint Center of Political and Economic Studies in Washington D.C.
While many on the Left agree with this unfounded assertion, Rhode Island is one state that points to the contrary.
Earlier this month, Governor Lincoln Chafee signed a law that will require all voters to carry photo identification cards to the polls beginning in 2014. While this makes the Ocean State one of only a few places in the union with such stringent regulations – the bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. The reason, in part, is because the government will provide IDs to individuals who cannot afford them.
The assertion, therefore, that all contemporary photo ID laws exist to reduce minority voting is shown to be purposefully disingenuous. While literacy tests and poll taxes have been used historically to prevent minorities from casting ballots, the NAACP continues to use politically charged rhetoric to mobilize their constituencies. Reformers, they imply, don't care about improving the electoral process – they seek only to disenfranchise blacks and obstruct their civil liberties.
The point of amending obsolete voting laws, however, as state legislators made clear in Rhode Island, is not to discriminate against certain ethnic groups but to make elections lawful and more democratic. In the United States, where elections may radically change the trajectory of our nation, the right to vote should be entrusted only to those who are American citizens.
As one state senator from Rhode Island put it:
"As a minority citizen and a senior citizen I would not support anything that I thought would present obstacles or limit protections," Sen. Harold Metts (D) said in the statement. "But in this day and age, very few adults lack one of the forms of identification that will be accepted, and the rare person who does can get a free voter ID card from the Secretary of State. While I'm sensitive to the concerns raised, at this point I am more interested in doing the right thing and stopping voter fraud. Hesitation based on potential ramifications of what may or may not happen at the expense of the integrity of the system is no longer an option."
As Senator Metts concedes, voter fraud is a reality in Rhode Island, as it is in other states. The purpose of stricter laws, put simply, is to preserve the democratic institutions the country was founded upon. Now, with partisan forces actively working to undermine these reforms, Americans should be open to the idea of modernizing state voting laws as the best way to preserve and protect our republican form of government.