The NAACP is leading a coalition that has launched a 50-state, nonpartisan registration and education campaign in response to what it calls “an unprecedented and coordinated attack on ballot access” that could keep up to 5 million voters away from the polls in 2012.
“When our community was celebrating in 2008 the breaking of the color barrier at the White House we should have been planning for the backlash to follow,” Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP, told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
“History has shown that after each advancement in voting rights there was a backlash. It happened after the Civil War, it happened after the passage of the Voting Rights Act and it happened after the election of the first black president.”
The voter registration campaign was announced at Clark-Atlanta University in Atlanta on Wednesday and will seek to register hundreds of thousands of new voters in coordination with state and college NAACP chapters, voter advocacy groups and other civil rights organizations using traditional recruiting methods as well as mobile and online technology.
This Is My Vote! also features a national voter empowerment hotline (1-866-MY-VOTE-1), registration mailings to more than 1 million black youth who will turn 18 by Election Day and partnerships with national faith organizations.
Jealous said the HBCUs are “ground zero” in the campaign and starting in Georgia had particular significance because the state, in addition to reducing the window on early voting, has not one, but two ID laws: a voter ID requirement and a registration ID requirement, which means you have to get the ID in order to register to vote.
For those who do not already have government ID, the process can be cumbersome. If you don’t have proper ID on Election Day, you may file a provisional ballot, but then must mail a copy of your voter ID or appropriate photo ID in order for the provisional ballot to be counted. A copy of valid photo ID must also accompany absentee ballots.
The NAACP is targeting 12 states for an enhanced registration, education and GOTV (Get Out The Vote) campaign, which will include paid directors and staff for volunteer recruitment and training, direct mail and paid advertising. The targeted states are: Virginia, Ohio, New York, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Missouri, California and Georgia.
These restrictions include:
• Laws passed in Florida and Texas restricting voter registration drives.
• Limitations in Florida, Maine, Ohio and Wisconsin on when and where people can register to vote.
• Laws in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia reduce the window for early voting.
• Several states, including Florida and Mississippi, are improperly purging voters from the registration rolls. (In Florida, a flawed purge program incorrectly flagged and purged 12,000 voters. More than 70 percent of those voters were African-American or Latino.)
• New photo ID laws requiring government-issued voter identification have passed in Texas, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Kansas and Tennessee. (21 million Americans don’t have photo ID, including 25 percent of African-Americans of voting age)
• Florida and Iowa have reversed earlier decisions that made it easier for people with felony convictions to restore their voting rights. The decision affects hundreds of thousands of voters.
• In 2011, at least 34 states introduced voter suppression legislation, with laws passing in 14 of those states, and laws pending in eight.
“In the last year they have passed more laws to restrict voter participation than at any point in the last 100 years,” Jealous said, noting that the laws civil rights workers put their lives on the line to overturn 50 years ago had been passed 50 years before they took action.
But it’s not just the presidential election that is critical, Jealous said. The point the NAACP seeks to impress upon voters – especially young voters – is the necessity to vote in local elections where state and municipal decisions are made that affect day-to-day living.
“People vote the top of the ticket and ignore the bottom, but the bottom is what kills,” Jealous said. “It’s the (county) supervisor who votes on health care and whether your schools get the funding they need; it’s the sheriff who keeps you safe or endangers your life. This is about whether my community is safe.”
Young adults who have the Trayvon Martin tragedy still fresh in their minds need to understand how voting affects such incidents, Jealous said.
“They need to understand how inserting themselves in the democratic process determines who the next sheriff is, who the judges are, the next mayor, who’s on the school board.”
“In 2008, 1-866-MY-VOTE-1 was given a lot of credit for galvanizing black voters to register to vote,” said media personality Tom Joyner. “The result was record-breaking numbers of African Americas going to the polls. With help of 1-866-MY-VOTE-1… we can get people fired up and to the polls in record numbers again this year.”
For information about registration, visit www.thisismyvote.org.