The rise and expansion of voter identification laws throughout the United States represents the greatest assault on voting rights in years and is the leading civil rights issue of this generation, says Benjamin Todd Jealous, the head of the NAACP.
“This represents the greatest attack on the voting rights of Americans since the rise of Jim Crow,” Jealous said in an interview with BET.com. “It’s hard to overstate the negative impact that these laws place on voting rights.
Jealous’ interview came just before he departed to attend a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where the NAACP will argue that the new voting laws in some U.S. states violate civil and human rights by suppressing the votes of minorities, the elderly and students.
"It was in 1947 that W.E.B. Du Bois delivered his speech and appealed to the world at the United Nations, Jealous said. "Now, like then, the principal concern is voting rights. The past year more states in this country have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than any point since Jim Crow."
Jealous said it was a “historic fact” that the voting rights of African Americans are suppressed after a period of great voting strength.
“Whenever the Black electorate expands, historically, you find a strong effort to suppress the votes of African-Americans,” he said.
Jealous said that after the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitiution was ratified in 1870, there was an expansion of Black voters and in the number of African-American elected officials. That was followed by a period of strong-armed suppression of Black voting rights and intimidation of African-American voters.
“So when you have the election of the nation’s first Black president, Barack Obama, where the electorate expanded in a historically diverse way, you now see this kind of voter suppression throughout the country,” Jealous said. “As an example of that expansion, the last presidential election saw Black women voting in higher proportions than white men.”
The good news, Jealous said, is that the country is paying more attention to the issue of voter identification laws and their impact on the Black electorate.
“There were 10,000 people who came to protest against it in January in South Carolina,” he said. “There were 15,000 in February in North Carolina. People are getting the message and it’s starting to have an impact.”
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(Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for NAACP Image Awards)