African-American churches, historically at the forefront of the nation’s civil and voting rights efforts, are grappling this election year with how to navigate through the wave of new voting-access laws approved in many Republican-controlled states, laws that many African-Americans believe were implemented to suppress the votes of minorities and others.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus and several hundred clergy leaders from the Conference of National Black Churches are scheduled to hold a summit Wednesday in Washington to discuss the new laws, their potential impact on African-American voters and how churches can educate parishioners, help them register and help get them to the polls on Election Day to prevent any significant drop-off from 2008.
“We will have attorneys there who are well-equipped to provide the guidance to the clergy members,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., the Congressional Black Caucus chair and a United Methodist pastor. “They will understand, before they leave, about some of the new laws in certain states designed – as we interpret them – to reduce the turnout. The day is over when they could just stand in the pulpit and say ‘Go vote. It’s your duty.’ They’ve got to now be equipped with some sophisticated information to help inspire a turnout and protect parishioners from some of the schemes that are out there.”
Since last year, at least 15 states have passed a wide array of laws that they say are aimed at reducing voter fraud. Up to 38 states, including some of those 15, are weighing legislation that would require people to show government-approved photo identification or provide proof of citizenship before registering or casting ballots.
That's excellent news to hear, and I only wish it had begun sooner. And hopefully the Congressional Hispanic Caucus can conduct a similar effort. The Latino vote is only going to become more and more important for progressives as the elections wear on, but the GOP is doing everything they can to displace minority voters in order to maintain power.
No matter how you feel about GOP or Democratic party policies, the notion that we have to limit voting to only certain groups should greatly disturb all Americans. Throughout our history, many have given their lives to help secure the right for citizens to vote. Working now to reverse that trend is simply repugnant and an affront to their sacrifice.
It's good to see the CBC and the NAACP rejoin this fight. Sadly, it seems that even in 2012 that fight will never end.