The New Normal for African-American Voter Turnout

As election law changes threatened access to the ballot box this year, African-American turnout operations strengthened.

By Leslie Watson Malachi

Leslie Watson Malachi

In 2008, for the first time in our history, African Americans voted at the same rate as white voters.

We spent the next four years hearing that that high turnout was a fluke. "Experts" told us we would lose our enthusiasm. We’d be daunted by new voting laws. We’d want to protest marriage equality. We’d think our votes don’t count.

Those "experts" were wrong. African Americans turned out to vote in record numbers on Election Day, many of us waiting in long lines and going through plenty of red tape to do so. One of these determined voters was a 100-year-old "Church Mother" in imageElmhurst, New York who didn’t want any favors and stood in line and in solidarity with her fellow citizens.

This happened not just because our enthusiasm lasted, but because our organization strengthened.

African-American communities had strong voter turnout operations long before there was an African-American man on the presidential ballot, with many of them centered around the Black Church.

These turnout operations are there for a reason: Ever since the process toward full citizenship of African Americans began with the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, politicians and others have been trying to stop us from exercising the hard fought, hard won right to vote.

This year, the attacks on our voting system were intentionally suppressive. Elections officials in Ohio and Florida, for example, cut back on early voting hours, resulting in long lines at early voting locations and on Election Day — primarily in African American communities. Politicians from Pennsylvania to South Carolina tried to implement Voter ID laws, which disproportionately disenfranchise African Americans, other minorities, and the poor. Around the country, election law changes big and small threatened access to the ballot box.

In response to these attacks, African-American turnout operations developed and strengthened. I personally worked with 1,100 pastors in 22 states across denomination and faith traditions through our nonpartisan African American Ministers Leadership Council VESSELS program, to ensure that our congregations had both the skills and the will to vote.

We not only preached to our congregations about the importance of voting, we organized to make sure every person in our communities had the information and access they needed to vote. Reverend Tony Minor of Cleveland and Elder Lee Harris and Pastor R.L. Gundy of Jacksonville worked in diverse coalitions to organize early voting and an Election Day rides-to-the-polls hotline to help those in need get out to vote.

In Detroit, Bishops Allyson Abrams and Diana Williams recruited youth and young adults to share with people on the streets the importance of voting. Reverend Michael Couch of Philadelphia educated and motivated people who had served time for felonies and their families about getting their voting rights restored.

Reverend Barry Hargrove of Baltimore visited local barbershops on the weekends and registered voters while they got their hair cut. Reverend Charles Christian Adams in Detroit and Reverend Patrick Young in New York along with many others turned their fellowship halls into polling sites. Sister Jackie Dupont Walker in Los Angeles and Reverend Isaac McCullough in St. Louis used radio, email, and social media to spread the vote.

The civic engagement structure that African-American churches have built is here to stay. Next year, there will be municipal, state, and special elections, as well as ballot initiatives. It might be perceived as an "off year" for some, but for those of us who have been called to serve at such a time as this, it is "another year" to ask at every opportunity, "Are you registered, are you ready to vote?"

Pundits and politicians alike have tried to write off the African-American vote. But as every woman, man, youth, and elder of my community knows, we’ve come too far, seen too much, stood too long, felt "sick and tired of being sick and tired" too often, and fought too hard to turn back now.


Minister Leslie Watson Malachi is the director for African-American Religious Affairs at People For the American Way. www.pfaw.orgDistributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

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I’m So Flipping Angry, Yet I’m So Flipping Proud

by Xio Rodriguez, a proud Democrat

On my way out of a local supermarket, there was a voter registration table by the exit.  To tell you the truth, I had not noticed the table on my way in.  As I approached, there was this young woman who might not be older than maybe 20 talking to a man who I gather was doing the registration.  There was no political affiliation attached to the voter registration group.  So I approached to hear what the man was telling the young woman.

But what about “preexisting conditions” the young woman asked.

“Look, the market and the insurance companies would take care of that, that whole idea that insurance companies would deny service or coverage is just something that is not really true,” he said.

At this point, the blood in my veins started to boil, but I kept my cool.

“But what about contraception,” the young woman asked.

“Look darling, the best method of contraception for a young and beautiful girl like you is to avoid sex; abstinence is the best way to avoid getting pregnant. Just remember that we are just trying to protect you,” he said

Once again, I had to control my temper; I wanted so much to ask him if abstinence is the best way to control a pregnancy, does that also go for men.  Does it not make more sense to teach our young people the importance of making sure they are protected to avoid an unwanted pregnancy?

Also, “protect” me against what?  Women are very capable of making decisions about their bodies.  We don’t need some man or the government to tell us what is and what is not best for us.  Many of us, in our daily lives, make life or death decisions in an instant; we are in war zones, we pilot planes (both commercial and military), we are astronauts, doctors, firefighters, police officers, and so on and so on.  We can make the hard everyday decisions, but we CANNOT MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT OUR BODIES.  REALLY!

Yes, I was just one step away from going off on this man when the young woman looked at me as if to say “please keep calm” and then she continued:  “But what about abortion in cases of rape and incest,” she asked.

“Look darling, you know as well as I do that many cases of so called rape are women trying to cover up an indiscretion and that way being able to have an abortion.  Remember that legitimate or as some want to say forcible rapes are really not all that common, and looking at you, I know you are a good girl and that will never happen to you,” he said.

After those words my young friend was calm.  I, on the other hand, was about to jump the table and tell him a few things, because as a two time rape survivor (yes I said it two times), I know a little bit about what being raped is all about.  Rape is something that has no social, racial, or economic barriers.  It can and it could happen to anyone.  It is something that is with you for the rest of your life.  What is this “retrograde” saying?  What does he really know about being raped?  There was so much I wanted to tell him, but my young friend once again gave me one of those looks.

Then she said, “Can I have one of the forms?”  I watched her fill in each box very carefully and I watched the expression of triumph on his face I was sure he was thinking “one more for my side.”  After she finished and signed the form, she handed it to him.  He looked it over and then said, “I can’t take your form, you are going to have to mail it in or take it personally.  All forms for THEM have to be mailed in or taken in.”

My young friend took her form back and without a word walked away.  I followed her and asked if I could see her form. She showed me and, yes, it was the wrong party for him, but the right party for me.

She looked at me and said, “I just needed to find out what they were saying and doing, so we can give our young people the proper information to face people like him.  Thanks for keeping your cool.”  Then she walked away.

So, my question to all women reading this today is simple:  Come November, which way are you going to go, the way of those who want government DICTATING control over your BODY or the way of those who are going to let you make your own decisions REGARDING YOUR BODYThink about it!

How Voter Suppression in 2012 Will Erode Reproductive Rights

— By Charlene CarruthersRH Reality Check | News Analysis

There is power in a woman’s right to vote.

Since 1984, women have been the majority of the total vote in every presidential election. This year, millions of women will stand in line and prepare themselves to decide who will serve in state legislatures and in the U.S. Congress. They will decide who sits on the local school board and who becomes the next President of the United States. They will also decide who shapes the future of reproductive health and rights for all women in this country. The power to preserve and expand reproductive rights is inextricably tied the right to vote.

But what is power if your ability to leverage that power is stripped away?

That’s just what Republican-led state legislatures across the country are poised to do. Since 2010 state legislatures with Republican majorities have introduced and passed restrictive laws with the potential — and many argue the intent — of forcing widespread voter suppression, and to disenfranchise women, people of color, students, the elderly, and low-income communities.

The overall strategy has included efforts to:

  • Pass laws that require voters to produce proof of citizenship;
  • Make the voter registration process more difficult by eliminating Election Day registration and creating new restrictions on voter registration drives;
  • Cut early and absentee voting periods;
  • Make the restoration of voting rights more difficult;
  • Require eligible voters to possess current and valid state issued photo ID

Brennan Center for Justice.Brennan Center for Justice.These voter suppression tactics are not new, our nation has faced this type of encroachment before. During the civil rights movement African-Americans, women, students, and allies all fought together to gain access to the vote for all citizens. Now, Republican-led state legislatures across the nation are working to roll back hard-earned progress.

What happens if this strategy succeeds?

According a Brennan Center for Justice study, approximately one in ten, or 21 million, Americans do not currently possess valid and current government-issued photo ID. Many of those voters are women whose last names changed with marriages.

The same study found that since the beginning of 2011, at least 180 bills restricting voting rights were introduced in 41 states. Due to this well-funded and well-organized GOP-led effort, 16 states succeeded in passing restrictive voting laws. These states account for 214 electoral votes, or nearly 79 percent of the total needed to win the presidency. If these restrictions are enacted, an estimated 5 million eligible voters could be turned away from the polls in 2012.

Republican state legislators are not pushing this agenda alone. A corporate-funded conservative group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — whose membership includes legislators and major corporations — created model voter ID legislation. Then, legislators and corporations worked together to introduce and push the model voter ID legislation in several states under the guise of preventing voting fraud.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “proponents of such voter suppression legislation have failed to show that voter fraud is a problem anywhere in the country.” Right-wing politicians and groups including ALEC are leveraging the right to vote against a problem that doesn’t exist.

Brennan Center for Justice.Brennan Center for Justice.What’s happening in states?

Florida has a long history of disenfranchising its eligible voters. Florida Governor Rick Scott’s attempt to purge more than 180,000 Floridians from voter rolls just before a key election is a prime example the GOP’s effort to disrupt the voting process and disenfranchise eligible voters. In the 2000 presidential election, thousands of ballots from African American voters were rejected and tossed out. George Bush’s victory was hinged upon the decision of Florida election officials, he won by just 573 votes. Every single vote counts.

Some Republican officials are transparent about the intent behind their efforts to rig the 2012 elections. Last month, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R) openly stated that voter ID “is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”  As a result of Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law, over 758,000 eligible voters now face disenfranchisement because they lack an acceptable form of ID. Over 186,000 of these voters live in the urban center of Philadelphia — home to nearly half of all African Americans in Pennsylvania.

In Mississippi the photo ID referendum has proved to be especially cumbersome. In order to obtain the required photo ID, voters have to have a birth certificate. To obtain a birth certificate, voters most have a state photo ID. See where this gets sticky?

The Texas voter ID law will accept gun licenses — but not student IDs — as proof of identification in lieu of a photo ID. Fortunately, like Mississippi, Texas is required to undergo federal review for any changes to its voting laws due to a history of discriminatory practices.

There are several factors that contribute to a person not having a current and valid photo ID. They expire. Some voters live in areas where driving is not necessary, therefore a state-issued drivers license is not necessary. Voters move and are unable to obtain new ID prior to registration or election day. College students who live away from home and only possess a student ID are also at risk of being turned away for the polls in some states.

The latest available figures show that only 48 percent of voting-age women with ready access to their U.S. birth certificates have a birth certificate with their current legal name. The same survey showed that only 66 percent of voting-age women with ready access to any proof of citizenship have a document with their current legal name.

Ultimately, these measures make the voting process more confusing and place additional burdens on groups who each had to struggle to obtain the right to vote and the right to access quality & affordable reproductive health care.

What are leaders in the movement saying?

“If you can’t access the ballot box, how do you ensure access to reproductive health care?” — Aimee Thorne-Thompson, Advocates for Youth

For reproductive justice advocates, voter suppression is a reproductive justice issue. Many groups like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights (RCRC) and NYC Reproductive Justice Coalition (NYC RJC, formerly SisterSong NYC) and Advocates for Youth work year-around to educate communities on the issues and mobilize them to vote for progressive candidates and ballot measures.

Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Justice Director at RCRC, Angela Ferrell-Zabala says voter suppression has the potential to affect down ballot measures and local races in states like Florida.

“Down ballot issues like Amendment 6 will open the state’s constitutional privacy laws and make it very difficult for women to seek abortion care’’ Ferrell-Zabala states.

If Amendment 6 is passed, politicians will be allowed to intrude on personal medical decisions and take away access to healthcare that many women who are Florida public employees currently have.

There is much at stake and “we have to look at the repercussions, it all leads back to reproductive justice. Accessing healthcare and education — making informed decisions about your sexual health and family planning.” Ferrell-Zabala explains.

This is about agency and the power to transform communities.

“To limit the agency of women and youth who are disenfranchised by the social conditions of our race, gender, age and socio-economic status is unacceptable at best, and a direct violation of our human rights at its worst.” says Jasmine Burnett, NYC RJC lead organizer.

Gloria Feldt, author and past president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America argues that “the young, the poor, the women struggling to make ends meet for their families are most vulnerable to disenfranchisement yet have the most to lose if right-wing perpetrators of voter suppression succeed.”

The power of the women’s vote can only be effectively leveraged if every woman who is eligible to vote is able to enter the voting booth and have her vote counted. If they are not counted in 2012 then, “reproductive rights, health, and justice would be among the first freedoms to go, and economic justice not far behind.” said Feldt.

The implementation of voter ID laws and other restrictive measures have the potential to shape whose votes are cast and counted in this year’s presidential election, but we must think long-term. What happens after the next presidential inauguration takes place on the steps of the U.S. Capitol?

Local races will occur where the individuals on the ballot stand to gain the power to decide what happens in women’s lives. They will have the power to decide what health centers receive funding, or whether the personhood of a woman is valued over the interests of a fertilitized egg… laws passed by elected officials who will never be in the position to choose. More often than not, these decisions affect women of color and women with low-incomes the most.

“The reproductive health, rights and justice movement must work with organizations doing voter education and civic engagement work to defeat these bills and ballot measures. Otherwise, all of our other rights are at risk.” says Thorne-Thompson.

As America’s democracy grows older and its citizenry becomes more diverse, our elected officials should focus on reducing barriers to voting and developing a more modern voting process. We must create a more streamlined and effective registration process and improve our use of technology in the voting process in order to realize full voter-participation. The power of the vote depends on this and our democracy is dramatically weakened — indeed completely undermined — without it.

This work by Truthout is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. This article is republished from RH Reality Check, a progressive online publication covering global reproductive and sexual health news and information.

CHARLENE CARRUTHERS
Charlene Carruthers is a New York City based activist and writer. A native of Chicago, she has worked extensively to promote social justice, empowerment and build leadership on local and national levels. Trained in the Saul Alinsky tradition of community organizing, Charlene believes in intentional and inclusive power building. Her passion for working with young leaders to build capacity and leadership has led her to work with and train youth of color and women across the country. She has worked for national progressive organizations including the Center for Community Change, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law and the Women’s Media Center and ColorOfChange.org. She has traveled and studied throughout the global south and brings with her a sense of global citizenship. Charlene received her Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis, where she focused on urban development and public policy. She is also a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University where she majored in History and International studies. Follow Charlene on twitter at @CharleneCac.

Texas Voter ID Law, Which Accepts Gun Licenses But Not Student IDs, Challenged In Court

— By Aviva Shen on Jul 6, 2012 at 5:25 pm

On Monday, the Department of Justice and the Texas Legislature will square off in court over Texas’ contentious voter ID law. A three-judge U.S. District Court panel will hear the case, which could challenge the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Texas is one of nine states that must get any changes to their election law cleared by the DOJ under the Voting Rights Act due to a history of discrimination. Texas flunked the test; as Assistant U.S. Attorney General Thomas E. Perez wrote in his letter to the Director of Elections, “According to the state’s own data, a Hispanic registered voter is at least 46.5 percent, and potentially 120.0 percent, more likely than a non-Hispanic registered voter to lack this identification.

The law, SB 14, requires voters to show one of a very narrow list of government-issued documents, excluding Social Security, Medicaid, or student ID cards. Gun licenses, however, are acceptable.

The DOJ found that Texas’s SB 14 will “disenfranchise at least 600,000 voters who currently lack necessary photo identification and that minority registered voters will be disproportionately affected by the law.”

As of the 2010 Census, non-Hispanic whites have become the minority in Texas, shrinking to 45.3% of the population from 52.4%, while Latinos accounted for 65% of Texas’s population growth over the past decade.

But Latinos are not the only people hurt by the restrictive bill. People who want to vote but don’t have an ID will have to pay a fee to get one, like Jessica Cohen, whose story ThinkProgress documented in November. After she lost her identification during a robbery, the only way to get a voter ID was to pay a fee to Missouri officials in order to obtain her birth certificate.

On Monday, Texas will defend the law as a necessary measure to prevent voter fraud. Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) argued that “Texas has a responsibility to ensure elections are fair, beyond reproach and accurately reflect the will of voters.” But the San Antonio Express-News reported that fewer than five “illegal voting” complaints involving voter impersonations were filed with the Texas Attorney General’s Office from the 2008 and 2010 general elections in which more than 13 million voters participated.

The Texas voter ID law isn’t the first the DOJ has had to combat. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder noted,

“The past two years have brought nearly two dozen new state laws and executive orders, from more than a dozen states, that could make it significantly harder for eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.”


This material [article] was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. Source: http://thinkprogress.org/election/2012/07/06/512245/texas-voter-id-law-which-accepts-gun-licenses-but-not-student-ids-challenged-in-court/

ACLU–Let People Vote Campaign

Because Freedom Can't Protect Itself

After a surge of voter interest and participation in 2008, a wave of anti-democratic voter suppression laws — designed to disenfranchise huge numbers of voters who are African-American, elderly, students or have disabilities — threatens to keep up to 5 million eligible voters from casting a ballot in 2012.

Take action today to stop these outrageous attempts to deny people their right to vote. Sign the petition urging Attorney General Holder to protect the right to vote.

Thank you for taking action,

Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director, ACLU

P.S. In the past 12 months, the ACLU has been involved in 28 voting rights lawsuits in 18 states, and has lobbied against voter suppression measures in over 20 states. We’ll keep protecting people’s right to vote all across America, but we need your help. Please sign our petition today.