Republican State Lawmakers React to NAACP Charges

GOP legislators contend that they, too, want to protect the vote.

Posted: 12/07/2011 01:45 PM EST
Ben Jealous,NAACP, voting rights, 2012 presidential election, 2012 election,

Civil rights and other organizations are angry about new voting laws that they say will prevent African-Americans and others from voting in upcoming elections, and are fighting back as hard as they can. The latest punch came from the NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which earlier this week issued a study of 14 states that have enacted 25 measures that the say add up a “coordinated assault” on voting rights.

 

Civil rights organizations and several Democratic lawmakers believe that it’s no coincidence that a wave of new voting laws have recently been passed or are being considered in Republican-controlled states. They’ve accused those legislatures of essentially rigging the process in an effort to give GOP candidates an advantage and help boot President Obama out of office. They also contend that the measures aim to stymie the unprecedented levels of participation by Black voters and others during the 2008 presidential election cycle.

 

Specifically, the new laws make it more difficult for African-Americans and others to cast ballots by requiring voters to produce specific kinds of photo identification; reducing registration and early voting periods; and adding new restrictions on third-party registration drives.

 

In Florida, for example, where 54 percent of Blacks took advantage of early voting in 2008 and made up 32 percent of the state’s turnout, the early voting period has been shortened from 14 days to eight, including the popular Sunday before the election on which church-loads of people would head to the polls after services. Other states that have new voting rules include Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

 

“These new tactics will weaken the electoral strength of communities of color, students and the poor [and] attack the very electoral strength that made possible the nation’s first Black president,” NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Jealous said in a conference call with reporters on Monday.

 

But, according to Republican lawmakers who are responsible for enacting the new laws, the measures make voting more secure, thereby strengthening the process. Florida state Rep. Dennis Baxley, who sponsored his state’s new law, told Politico that he is “offended” by the NAACP’s accusations.

 

“This is the only legislature that can protect the election process from mischief, and there’s nothing in this election law that’s going to limit anybody’s participation,” he said. “All I’m trying to do is make sure that our election process is protected from abuse and that the results are credible — what in this bill applies differently to anyone of a different race?”

 

Mississippi state Sen. Joey Fillingane told Politico that, given Mississippi’s history of racial discrimination, it’s understandable that the NAACP and other groups would be “suspicious.”

 

“But they are making an ostrich argument, where you stick your head in the sand and say because of problems of the past, we won’t acknowledge any current-day problems and dangers,” he said “[Our bill] isn’t a panacea, but sure will go a long way into ensuring dead people won’t be voting any more.”

 

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(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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