by Frederick Cosby, Special to BlackAmericaWeb.com
Opponents of a wave of restrictive voting laws sweeping across the nation are stepping up their efforts to combat the new rules, which they say are nothing more than naked conservative-led efforts to suppress the votes of minorities, the elderly and the young in next year’s elections.
At a Washington press briefing Tuesday, the Color of Change announced that it is targeting major companies that contribute to a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, which they contend drafted and distributed model legislation in 34 states for bills requiring government-approved photo identification to register or to vote.
Rashad Robinson, Color of Change’s executive director, said his organization has sent letters to several well-known corporations asking them to stop contributing to ALEC, which is backed by the wealthy conservative Koch brothers, or face a boycott by black consumers.
“We’re not launching a campaign against ALEC,” Robinson said. “ALEC is not doing this alone. ALEC is supported by some of the largest corporate brands in America. Public-facing brands that every single day goes to the black community and asks us for our dollars while they support ALEC, who’s suppressing our vote.”
The group’s threat isn’t a small one, considering its successful effort in getting companies to drop their sponsorship of conservative talk show host Glenn Beck’s program on Fox News after Beck made several inflammatory comments about President Barack Obama. Beck has since left the network.
Robinson said Color of Change is giving the companies time to act on their request before publically identifying them.
“We’re giving them time to pull out,” Robinson said. “We’re giving them time to publically announce that they care more about black people’s franchise than about supporting a nameless, faceless organization in D.C. and that suppressing black people’s votes is not part of their business strategy.”
Meanwhile, the Advancement Project, a civil rights policy, law and communications think tank, is pressing on with a drive to get signatures on a petition urging Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department to block discriminatory voting laws. More than 100,000 people have signed the petition thus far, according to Judith Browne Dianis, the Advancement Project’s co-director.
The petition drive is in response to what Dianis called the largest rollback of voting rights in over a century.
Some 13 states have implemented new laws that could make it difficult for as many as five million Americans to cast ballots next year.
Civil rights and civil liberties groups estimate that with even more states considering more restrictive voter registration legislation, more than 21 million citizens could be adversely impacted as they attempt to vote.
Some of the laws passed by the 13 states include provisions requiring voters to show government-approved ID cards to register or vote, the curtailment or elimination of early voting, restricting voter registration efforts by third-party groups like the NAACP or the League of Women Voters, the elimination of same-day voter registration and the denial of restoration of voting rights to convicted felons who’ve served their time.
Nationwide, about 25 percent of blacks lack a current state ID. The problem is even worse on a state-by-state basis. In Wisconsin, for example, 55 percent of black males and 46 percent of Latino males lack a driver’s license, compared to just 15 percent of white males.
Among Wisconsin voters between 18 and 24 years old, 78 percent of black males, 66 percent of black women, 59 percent of Latino men and 46 percent of Latina women don’t have driver’s licenses.
Some states appear to have gone out of their way to target black voters. In Florida, for instance, new laws cut the number of early voting days in half and ended voting on the final Sunday before an election.
Fifty-four percent of the 1.1 million blacks who voted in the Sunshine State in 2008 did so before the Tuesday Election Day, and 32.2 percent of them voted on the final Sunday before Election Day, powered largely by “Pews to the Polls” efforts by black churches. By contrast, only 27 percent of white voters took advantage of early voting in Florida.
Also, what passes for government-approved ID in some states is arbitrary. In Texas, for example, a student ID from a state-funded college or university isn’t sufficient ID, but a Texas concealed handgun license is.