Tens of thousands of people flooded the Washington, D.C. area from September 19-23, for the 42nd annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation convention which was held at the Walter E. Washington Convention center.
At the core of many of the workshops was the common theme, voter suppression, and the urgency in getting people registered to vote and then getting them to the polls on November 6.
“We have had 176 restrictive fields regarding voting laws in 41 states,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said.
“Keep in mind that we have not found an instance of voter fraud in the last 20 something years. So, why would there be such an effort to deter minority voting power?” he said.
Rep. Cleaver referred to the last presidential election in which record numbers of black voters turned out and voted for President Barack Obama.
He also reminded the audience of the many obstacles that blacks faced when it came to voting including poll taxes and having to answer questions.
“One of the obstacles that my 103-year-old grandfather had to face in his time was that during that time blacks would have to recite the U.S. Constitution. Of course they could not do it. That is why I become so angry at any African-American who refuses to vote. They are not worth the color if they do not vote. They should give us their color back. That is an insult to the ancestors and the people who came before us,” Rep. Cleaver stated.
Ms. Donna Brazile, a political analyst currently serving as Vice Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, echoed Rep. Cleaver’s position on voter suppression by Republicans.
“There have been 17 states that have passed restrictive voting laws,” she said.
“That means there are 17 states that have the potential of impacting the 2012 presidential election. These states account for 218 electoral votes or 80 percent of the electoral votes that are needed in order to win the presidency. My mother always taught me that if you change the rules in the middle of a race that it is called cheating,” Ms. Brazile said.
“In 2000 I managed Al Gore’s campaign. That is the campaign that we won and lost on the same day. In Florida, at the time, voters had to show up with not one, not two, but three forms of identification just to get a provisional ballot. So, what I am encouraging people to do is show up on election day with their voter identification card, their driver’s license, their birth certificate or everything that they have. Because with this fall we will see things that we have not seen since 1965,” Ms. Brazile said.
The 17 states that have passed restrictive voting laws and executive actions that have the potential to impact the 2012 election are; Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
In fact several people spoke about the new Texas law and how student identification cannot be used as voter identification, but a hunting license can be used.
Rev. Al Sharpton attributes the new laws to racial discrimination.
“First of all, it is racial discrimination because in any number of states [we] have talked about the disproportionate impact that these laws will have on African Americans and Latinos,” Rev. Sharpton said.
“I think that we need to be clear. We are not against identification. We just feel like that people should have the same identification that they had when, Reagan ran and Clinton ran. We are not against identification. We are against the new restrictive identification laws. They are trying to sell to the public that we are trying to just open up the polls so that anyone can vote without proper identification. That is not what we are doing,” he stated.
“The Justice department has established that there has been .0003 percent voter fraud. The voter identification laws are a solution looking for a problem rather than a problem looking for a solution. Therefore, there is a disproportionate impact on us,” Rev. Sharpton said.
Rev. Sharpton shared a story of a 87-year old Florida woman who has to travel 27 miles to get the state issued identification.
“The lady told me that she does not drive and does not have a passport because she is not going anywhere. So, to get the identification it would cost her $27 and a ride to the place to get the identification. That is a poll tax. We cannot have situations where people have fixed incomes and cannot afford to get the identification so that they can vote.”
Rev. Sharpton also said that there needs to be a two-prong approach to help combat measures that Republicans are implementing in key swing states and across the nation.
“We need to fight to change the laws and we need to make sure that everyone who goes to the polls have the proper identification so that they cannot be turned away from the polls,” he said.
“Lastly, we need to preserve the voting rights act. We are trying to preserve the country. We are going forward, not going backwards,” Rev. Sharpton said.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, there are still six states with 27 restrictive bills pending.
Voting rights for minority voters continue to come under attack as Republican leaders are now turning to the Supreme Court to overturn historic Civil Rights legislation.
Several federal judges recently struck down voter suppression laws in multiple states, introduced by Republican legislators and governors, such as voter identification laws, provisional voting restrictions, limits on voter registration drives, and reduced availability for early voting.
The court rulings in Florida, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin, marked a widespread rejection of so called "voter fraud" legislation, which seeks to greatly limit who can and cannot vote.
Rep. John Lewis stated that we have come too far to turn back now.
“I didn’t give much to the voting rights struggle, just some blood,” Rep. Lewis said.
“Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful, nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union. Not too long ago, people stood in unmovable lines. They had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax. On one occasion, a man was asked to count the number of bubbles in a bar of soap. On another occasion, one was asked to count the jelly beans in a jar—all to keep them from casting their ballots,” Rep. Lewis stated.
“It is unbelievable that there are Republican officials still trying to stop some people from voting. They are changing the rules, cutting polling hours and imposing requirements intended to suppress the vote. The Republican leader in the Pennsylvania House even bragged that his state’s new voter ID law is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state. That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not just,” he said.
Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) Members are hosting a series of coordinated events across the country to ensure their communities are prepared to vote on Election Day.
Community leaders, local and state elected officials, will join Congressional Black Caucus Members in their districts as a part of the “For the People” Voter Protection initiative that brings attention to block the vote efforts, like restrictive voter ID laws, that may impede as many as 5 million people from registering to vote and/or from casting a ballot this November.
At least 34 states have introduced laws that would require voters to show photo identification in order to vote and at least 12 states have introduced laws that would require proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate, to register to vote or to vote. The states that have already cut back on voting rights provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
The Congressional Black Caucus is committed to ensuring that no eligible voter is turned away from the ballot box during early voting and on Election Day.
This week, the following CBC Members will host voter protection events in their districts:
CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver, II (MO – 05) Grand Hall of Union Station 30 W. Pershing Road Kansas City, MO 64108
Time: 10am – 11am CST
Contact: Mary Petrovic, (202) 494-9425
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA – 09)
Alameda County Registrar of Voters
12th and Oak Street
Oakland, CA 34612
Time: 11am – 1pm PT
Contact: Katherine Jolly, (510) 763-0370
Congressman James Clyburn (SC – 06) with Special Guest, Rev. Al Sharpton Charles R. Drew Wellness Center
2101 Walker Solomon Way
Columbia, SC 29201
Time: 10 – 11:30am ET
Contact: Hope Derrick, (803) 799-1100
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (TX – 18) Palm Center Courtroom Annex 5300 Griggs Road, 2nd Floor Houston, TX 77021
Time: 11am – 1pm CST
Contact: Michael McQuerry, (202) 225-7080
Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (OH – 11)
Cuyahoga Board of Elections
2925 Euclid Ave
Cleveland, OH 44115
Time: 11am – 1pm ET
Contact: Belinda Prinz, (216) 630-0072
Congressman Al Green (TX-09)
4814 Almeda Road
Houston, Tx 77004
Time: 4 – 8pm CST
Contact: Kevin Dancy, (713) 383-9234
Congressman Alcee Hastings (FL – 23)
Office of Congressman Alcee Hastings
2701 W. Oakland Park Blvd, Suite 200
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33311
Time: 10:30am – 12:30pm ET
Contact: Ian Wolf, (202) 225-1313
Congresswoman Gwen Moore (WI-4)
Milwaukee City Hall Rotunda
200 E. Wells Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Time: 11am CT
Contact: Nicole Williams or Stacy Cox, (202) 225-4572
Congressman Elijah Cummings (MD – 7)
Parlett L. Moore Library Quad
Coppin State University
2500 West North Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21216
Contact: Safiya Simmons, (202) 225-4289
Congressman Sanford Bishop (GA- 02) – TWO LOCATIONS Albany Government Center
222 Pine Avenue
Albany, GA 31701
Time: 8:30am ET
Columbus Government Center
100 10th Street
Columbus, GA 31901
Time: 5pm ET
Contact: Maxwell Gigle, (202) 225-3631
Congressmen John Lewis (GA – 05), David Scott (GA -13), and Hank Johnson (GA – 04) Georgia State Capitol – Washington Street Side
206 Washington Street SW
Atlanta, GA 30334
Time: 11am – 1pm ET
Contact: Brenda Jones, (202) 226-4673
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX – 30) Dallas County High Schools except the I.S.D.’s of Highland Park and Mesquite Dallas County, Texas
Time: 10am – 2pm CST
Contact: Collin Chlebak, (202) 225-8885
For more information about the Congressional Black Caucus’ Voter Protection Initiative, visit www.TheCongressionalBlackCaucus.com/voteready.