Although Democrats and progressives worry that a net of restrictive state-level voter ID laws could prevent millions of Democratic-leaning voters from casting ballots this fall, the national outcry against these new measures could at least blunt their effect. Indeed, have these laws — usually enacted in states controlled by Republican governors and state legislators — sparked such attention and outrage that they could actually backfire?
The threat that these laws could deny the right to vote to so many Americans has prompted such a large-scale grassroots mobilization aimed at ensuring all voters have access to the polls that voters may be more, not less, motivated and prepared to enter the voting booth come Election Day than they might otherwise have been.
At issue is the flurry of statutes enacted over the last year or so, in more than a dozen states as far-flung as Alabama, Florida and Wisconsin, which will make it more difficult for many voters to cast their ballots this year. The laws are consistently crafted in ways designed to make it more difficult for Democratic-leaning voters to access the polls.
In particular, progressives worry that these voter ID laws disproportionately target young voters, African-Americans, Hispanics, and others who do not have the approved state-issued IDs and who often lack the financial means needed to jump through all of the official hoops enacted under these laws to comply.
For instance, in Wisconsin, where Republican Gov. Scott Walker and a GOP-dominated state legislature enacted a strict law in which voters must show certain forms of ID in order to vote, just 78 percent of young African-Americans aged 18 to 24 have the proper ID to vote.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his Justice Department appear to agree given that this week they moved to block a state voter ID law, this time in Texas. The law in the Lone Star State was written in such a way that an acceptable ID with which to vote is a gun license — but not a student ID.
“Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card,” Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, wrote in a letter to the director of elections for the Texas secretary of state.
Opponents of these restrictive voter ID laws are pursuing a two-track strategy to combat them. While they welcome legal challenges, such that brought against Texas and earlier against a similar law in South Carolina, opponents are not relying on legal action alone.
They have launched large-scale campaigns designed to educate affected voters and do all they can to make sure these voters have what they need come Election Day, even if these voter ID laws remain on the books.
A World Record For Democracy
It’s this grassroots mobilization against the voting laws that could that could turn the laws against themselves by potentially drawing out millions of new voters this year.
For instance, a coalition of African American clergy this month announced the launch of a new voting initiative entitled The Empowerment Movement. Its mission is a massive undertaking, with a goal to register 1 million voters on one day, Easter, April 8, by challenging every black church in the United States to register 20 people on that day. Organizers say that they actually hope to make Guinness World Book history for democracy. Leaders of The Empowerment Movement estimate that there are 500,000 black churches in America, with more than 5 million unregistered voters inside.
Rev. Jamal Bryant, pastor of the Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, has been named president of the organization. Bryant claims approximately 35,000 followers on Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace, he believes that “God is not just in the church; He is also in technology.” His mission is to “empower people spiritually, develop them educationally, expose them culturally, activate them politically, and strengthen them economically,” according to The Empowerment Movement.
Nor is The Empowerment Movement alone.
Several national Latino organizations also recently formed a coalition to increase voter registration and mobilize the Latino vote. The campaign’s goal is to register 200,000 voters and get at least 100,000 Latinos to polls in the November elections.
Known as Latinos for Democracy, its mission explicitly includes curtailing voter suppression. The coalition promises to fight against voter suppression and voter ID issues affecting Latinos, and will train volunteers to provide voter protection monitoring at the polls.
“Whether it’s political empowerment, educational attainment, unemployment, health care coverage or environmental quality, Latinos are facing challenges on every front. But every election cycle is an opportunity for Latinos to make their voices heard and demand that our community’s needs are met. From the door step to the ballot box, LCLAA will be on the ground, protecting, promoting and expanding the participation of Latinos in the electoral process,” says Hector Sanchez, executive director of the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), part of the Latinos for Democracy coalition.