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Voting-rights battle rages on

2nd July 2012   ·   0 Comments

New American Media hosted a teleconference last week that brought together journalists, elected officials and voting-rights advocates who are committed to ensuring that this fall’s high-stakes national elections are both fair and reflective of the will of the people who make up this nation.

Among those who participated were Congressman Keith Ellison from Minnesota, Congresswoman Gwen Moore of Wisconsin and Keesha Gaskings from the Brennan Center., all of whom spoke frankly about federal efforts to protect voting rights and the latest developments in restrictive voter ID policies.

NAM’s Zaineb Muhammed listed 10 states — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin — that have enacted restrictive voter I.D. laws. “These states are home to millions of eligible voters who may not have easy access to the specific government-issued photo identification required by these laws,” Muhammed said.

She added that between July and November New American Media will continue its partnership with New York University’s The Brennan Center for Justice and other advocacy groups to get the word out about efforts to counter the voter-suppression movement.

Keesha Gaskins, who currently serves as senior counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said the aforementioned states are in various stages of getting voter suppression laws enacted with a number of states fending off legal challenges from voting-rights advocates and a number of states awaiting clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice to make certain that these laws don’t violate the Voting Rights Act.

“It’s really important to understand how these laws are in place and how they’re going to affect voters,” Gaskins said.

“There is no right that we have as Americans which is more important than the right to vote,” U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wisconsin, said during the teleconference. “There is no right that is more cast in stone in the Constitution than the right to vote. It’s protected by the 14th Amendment, which promises equal protection under the law. It’s promised by the 15th Amendment, which provides former slaves and adult males of any race the right to vote; the 19th Amendment, which provided women the right to vote; the 24th Amendment to the Consti­tution which promised that no poll taxes could be charged for the right to vote and of course the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, which provided that if you were 18 years old and sent off to die in wars you ought to have the right to vote. Then again there’s the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

“While all of our rights are essential, I would say that the right to vote for everyone is not some ideal or goal to achieve when it’s convenient — it’s a cornerstone of our democracy.”

Congresswoman Moore said that it’s important that Americans remember “the martyrs who have died in wars and in demonstrations to defend this right.

“Not only our African-American ancestors but our ancestors from the Revolutionary War, whites who fought side-by-side in the struggle and the suffragettes who fought for equal treatment for over 70 years facing humiliation and shame from society,” Moore said.

Congresswoman Moore said Americans should be careful about lending their support to issues like voter suppression without really understanding what it entails. “You hear proponents of this law say, ‘Well, what’s wrong with having a voter ID? After all, you need an ID to get on an airplane. You need an ID to get cough medicine from the drugstore. You need a photo ID to go to the bank.’

“Well, you don’t need to be middle-class to vote, and you need to be middle-class to ride on an airplane,” she continued. “You need to be age 21 to go to the liquor store or have a drink. But as I’ve told my children, drinking is not a right, it’s a privilege. Voting is a right — it is not a privilege.

“Basically, what you hear from proponents of voter-suppression laws is some sort of sense that there are certain types of voters that should be disqualified from voting,” Moore continued. “Those people who are too disorganized and are not middle-class enough to have their birth certificate or are too poor to send off to another state for their birth certificate. Perhaps people who are homeless and don’t necessarily have an address shouldn’t be able to vote. But the right to vote does not exclude people who don’t have these types of identification. It is a poll tax, in our opinion, to require not only $20 to replace a lost or destroyed birth certificate but in other cases as well where people have to send hundreds of dollars to correct mistakes and errors that have been made on their birth certificates.”

Moore said elderly Americans who were born at home and didn’t have birth certificates are being adversely affected by these voter-suppression laws as are Americans whose birth certificates and other records were destroyed in government buildings by floods, fires and other disasters.

“We’re in a struggle over power,” U.S. Representative Keith Ellison said. “You can start the story wherever you want. I’ll start the story in 2008 — although it’s older than that. In 2008 a broad coalition of forces —labor, peace activists, environmental activists, neighborhood activists — came together and were able to win a historic presidential race on a progressive agenda and then were able to push through historic health care and other things…

“If we ever thought for a moment that was the end of the story, we were wrong,” Ellison continued. “It didn’t take long for the forces of reaction to organize themselves in earnest and start pushing back the other way. One of the many ways that they have pushed back has to do with the vote. I believe that about 38 states have introduced legislation to restrict voting based on some form of government identification card. Ten states have passed it and in the state of Minnesota it’s on the ballot.”

The Louisiana Weekly asked Congressman Keith Ellison how many more “Freedom Summers” the United States will have to have before the nation wakes up and pushes aside the many issues that divide us in order to focus on making the U.S. a leader in the global community.

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance,” Congressman Ellison told The Louisiana Weekly. “There will never be a day that we won’t have to fight for justice. We’ll always have to fight for justice.”

This article was originally published in the July 2, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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