NAACP member speaks out against state Republican redistricting plan before legislative committee
Editor’s Note–Below is a statement given on July 13 by Milwaukee NAACP Branch member and former 1st Vice President Wendell Harris on behalf of the Milwaukee Branch and the NAACP state conference branches to the state Senate Judiciary Committee and the Assembly Homeland Security Committee. He spoke on the state redistricting plan proposed by Republicans.
“Good morning. My name is Wendell Harris, and I am a long-standing member and former 1st Vice President of the Milwaukee Branch NAACP. I am the current chairperson of the Education Committee for the Wisconsin NAACP State Conference of Branches. I have been asked to speak today on behalf of the Milwaukee Branch and the State Conference, Presidents James Hall and Thomas White, respectively.
“Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s longest-standing civil rights organization. The NAACP was instrumental in the struggle to outlaw legal segregation in the United States.
“Our stated mission is to ensure the political, educational, social, economic equality and rights of all persons, and to eliminate racial hatred and discrimination. Perhaps our most important focus has been to ensure the right to vote for African-American citizens — including the right to make our votes count in a meaningful manner.
“The NAACP helped secure the passage of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, and its extensions in ‘70, ‘75, ‘82, and most recently in 2007. The NAACP and its branches have litigated hundreds of voting rights cases under the U.S. Constitution and later, the Voting Rights Act to guarantee those rights for all African Americans.
“We fought to outlaw electoral devices and schemes which deny, abridge, suppress, or dilute the rights to vote. Our State’s NAACP Branches have likewise fought to ensure meaningful representation of the votes of all African-Americans in the State of Wisconsin.
“As African-American voters, when it comes to drawing electoral districts, we see our right to vote in two ways. First, we fight to ensure that in districts that include large concentrations of African Americans, the lines are drawn which permit us to elect the candidates that best represent our issues and concerns. As such, we have the right to have electoral districts that do not dilute our vote.
“Second, in those electoral districts and geographic areas where we do not constitute the majority, we also have the right to INFLUENCE the election of candidates who acknowledge that our issues and concerns matter and will be included in the decision making processes. It is in this situation – the right to influence the outcome of elections — that the Republican redistricting plan disenfranchises thousands of African American voters, primarily in Southeastern Wisconsin.
“The Republican redistricting plan does this by packing all African-American voters into single districts– for the sole purpose of removing influential African-American voters from otherwise white-majority districts in which we could have an influence on the outcome of the election. As you know, the Republican redistricting plan :
• Removes African-American voters residing in District 8 – currently represented by Sen. Darling – and packs us into the largely African-American district currently represented by Sen. Taylor.
• It also removes African-American voters currently represented by Sen. Vukmir in District 5, and packs those voters into the largely African-American district currently represented by Sen. Coggs in District 6. • Equally pernicious is the packing of all African-American voters living in Racine and Kenosha – currently represented by Senators Wangaard and Wirch – into a single senate district, eliminating the ability of those African-American voters to have an influence over the two Senate districts.
“Under the Republican redistricting plan, African-American voters have now lost the ability to influence the outcome in 3 Senate districts in southeastern Wisconsin.
“A final point regarding process: The drawing of such lines requires the collective input of many groups and individuals. Like millions of other Wisconsin voters, we in the NAACP did not learn until this week exactly how this proposed Republican redistricting plan would impact voters. We are appalled that Republican leadership intended to fast-track this process right past the local redistricting planning processes that are currently underway in our cities and counties, even to the point that this redistricting plan will even run roughshod over existing ward lines.
“By carving up numerous wards into multiple legislative districts, the legislature will make the administration of our elections confusing and potentially an administrative nightmare. This affront to the democratic process – both on the state and local level — must be changed so that all citizens are afforded a meaningful opportunity to examine, debate, and provide input on how our legislative district lines will eventually be drawn. Thank you.”