The Congressional Black Caucus is planning another road trip around the nation, but the goal this time will be to raise awareness about redistricting and new voter laws that could disenfranchise millions of Americans in 2012 and prevent them from casting ballots. The caucus’ jobs fair and town hall meetings made headlines this summer as it tried to call attention to soaring African-American unemployment rates, the group hoping to have the same effect on voters who may not be aware of the possibility that they may be turned away at the polls next year.
The details are still being worked out, but CBC Chairman Emanuel Cleaver told BET.com that “we believe that it’s important that everybody in the country understands that in the world’s leading democracy there’s an attempt to reduce voter turnout and we think that it’s so alien to what our country has fought for, that it requires a lot of work to make sure that it is widely known.”
The CBC met with Attorney General Eric Holder during its weekly meeting on Wednesday, but any mention of redistricting or new voter ID laws was verboten because the AG’s civil rights division must pre-clear new laws in states that have a history of discrimination and must comply with the Voting Rights Act as a result of their previous records.
In a readout of the meeting, the CBC said that it discussed several other issues, including juvenile justice and federal contracting opportunities for minority businesses, but what it didn’t include was the frustration expressed by many of the lawmakers that the Justice Department has largely been unresponsive to many of their inquiries.
According to one senior Democratic aide who spoke on background, some members said that they felt as if there is some sort of “blanket prohibition” on responding to their inquiries, representing a stark difference from the last time the agency was controlled by a Democratic administration. The lack of communication between Black lawmakers and the agency does not serve President Obama well, they said. Members expressed despair over a perceived lack of response to other issues, including an inadequate number of Black federal judicial appointments and a more diverse group of trustees to address discriminatory bank abuses in foreclosure proceedings.
And although they were prohibited from discussing voting rights and redistricting issues, one CBC member who also spoke on background said that the White House “doesn’t get” the threat posed by new laws being considered or implemented by Republican-controlled state legislatures, particularly in key swing states like North Carolina and Virginia that President Obama won by tight margins in 2008.
The lawmaker fears that Republicans will not only try to “steal” local congressional elections, but Obama’s re-election, too, based on an unrealistic belief that he will somehow be able to “overcome” new redistricting maps and voter laws in states that the president will need in 2012.
“They’re going to have the same white-a-- lawyers who don’t believe that white election officials will do whatever they can to disenfranchise Black voters,” the lawmaker said, adding that “they play rough” in states that Obama could have won but lost in 2008.
And it’s not just a “Black Thing.” Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez said that he has heard from a diverse group of colleagues “on numerous occasions that they don’t feel like the civil rights division at the Justice Department is forcefully counteracting” voter suppression laws that “are unfriendly to minority voters.”