Commentary: Defending Democracy and Voting Rights

In an exclusive commentary, the NAACP's Ben Jealous says we must protect our right to vote.

Voting rights are once again under assault.  We are now facing the most aggressive, coordinated attack on voting since before the NAACP was formed over 102 years ago. A nationwide campaign to erect new obstacles to the ballot box has resulted in 25 restrictive voting measures in 14 states. From new and enhanced voter identification requirements to provisions that will curtail voter access to registration, challenge mass voter registration drives, limit voting periods and block the ability of former prisoners to regain their right to vote once their debt to society has been paid, these measures will have a devastating impact on the political influence and power of communities of color.


The 2008 elections were a watershed moment in our nation’s long march towards racial equality. African-American, Latino and younger voters turned out in unprecedented numbers and made their voices heard. The 2010 Census marked another milestone — as we learned that America is becoming a majority-minority nation.  Once again, in the 2010 midterm elections, younger voters and communities of color voted at higher levels than in previous midterm elections.


These voting trends reveal our political landscape is on the verge of a great transformation. This transformation is precisely what new legislative and administrative barriers to voter registration, reductions in early voting, blocking access to the polls on Election Day, enhanced eligibility requirements, increased disenfranchisement of former prisoners, voter purges, and elimination or restrictions on early voting aim to prevent.


Georgia, Texas and Florida are three of the states leading the charge in creating ways to block access to the ballot box; they are also among those states experiencing explosive growth in minority voter turnout and population growth. The new report by the NAACP and NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Defending Democracy: Confronting 21st Century Barriers to Voting Rights in America, reveals direct connections between the trend of increasing, unprecedented African-American and Latino voter turnout and an onslaught of restrictive measures designed to stem electoral strength among communities of color, especially in regions where full political participation can reverse the tide of policies that undermine rights of racial and ethnic minority communities. 


The report also details a plethora of voter-suppression initiatives, most of them pushed in states with large African-American populations and where voting turnout has surged. Comprehensive in its reach and launched in time to affect the 2012 elections, the vote-blocking efforts are designed to stem the tide of minority voting, the report states.


Voting rights are the cornerstone of our democracy — that’s why the NAACP and other human rights organizations are sounding the alarm on voting rights. We urge you to take a stand for freedom by joining our appeal to the United Nations on International Human Rights Day December 10 to protect your right to vote.


We can defeat these voting barriers by taking five simple steps:


Inform Yourself. Find out what you need to vote 2012.


Inform Your Community. Share this information with your family, friends and neighbors.


Volunteer. Volunteer with the NAACP, your church or other community groups that offer voter assistance.


Register to Vote and Vote.


Each One, Bring One. Don’t go to the polls alone! Bring a first-time voter to the polls or a voter who may have difficulty getting to the polling place. You can text STAND to 62227 for more information.


Benjamin Todd Jealous is the president and CEO of the NAACP. The NAACP plans to participate in a march to protect voting rights on Saturday, Dec. 10 in New York City.



The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.



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