It may only be April, but don’t let the calendar fool you. It’s an election year, and that means efforts to woo and sway your vote are underway, even if you haven’t noticed. And if it’s an election year, that means that someone, somewhere is cooking up a plan to keep certain voters from the polls.
Right on cue, Republicans in key swing states have quietly (sometimes not so quietly) been enacting measures and laws with the sole purpose of keeping people of color and younger people away from the polls. I guess they’re going with the motto “if you can’t beat ‘em, change the laws until you can.”
The 2012 election was a wake-up call for anyone thinking about running for office in the future. The demographics of this country are changing, and the electorate is becoming browner and younger. But it appears that the lessons some conservatives learned from that election wasn’t that they needed to shift their policies to better attract members of the “Obama coalition.” No, the lessons they took away were that they should work on their messaging, and if that fails, put up as many barriers to voting as possible.
I don’t know about you, but there is something sick and un-American about making it harder for people to vote. I thought we moved past that troubled part of our history in the 70’s, which true, wasn’t that long ago, but it’s far enough in the past that it makes these new efforts seem almost unbelievable. For the moment, let’s put aside issues around Voter ID, though the new “proof of citizenship” rules are particularly odious. Many low-income people do not have a birth certificate or a passport, nor do they have the resources or time to acquire them (remember, many work during the week at jobs with no flexibility.)
I am waiting for someone to give me a good reason why Republicans would actively fight to end things that have increased people’s access to the polls, like early voting or same day registration. On the latter, the claims of potential voter fraud are bogus and have been proven so over and over again. But what IS true is that a large percentage of same-day registrants are African American. Coincidence?
Early voting seems especially targeted at the black community. For years, black churches and other community groups have organized outings to get people, especially seniors, to the polls after church on the weekends before Election Day. Eliminating early voting eliminates Souls to the Polls. In addition, many low-income people do not have the flexibility in their schedules that so many of us take for granted to actually vote on Tuesday. It’s not a holiday, and not many can afford to take the time to stand in line for hours on end.
So now that we know that these efforts are taking place, the question is, what are we going to do about it? Are we going to quietly sit by and let these governors and state legislators put up barriers to voting and then act surprised about it in November? Or are we going to stand up and fight back? In North Carolina, they are fighting back. The Moral Mondays movement has shone a bright light on all the awfulness happening in that state, not just limited to restricting voting (seriously, North Carolina. This is awful.) In Ohio, organizers led a protest march to in low-income neighborhoods to show the adverse effects of eliminating polling locations. And other efforts are underway around the country. The good news is that it is just April. There is time to learn what is happening in your state and if it’s bad, start making some noise about it. My colleagues at ThinkProgress.org would love to hear what is happening. And you can always reach me on twitter. Whatever you do, don’t be silent or complacent. That’s what they are counting on.
Daniella Gibbs Léger, a former special assistant to President Obama, is the Senior Vice President for American Values and New Communities at the Center for American Progress. Follow her on Twitter @dgibber123