The Great Equalizer
The act of casting a ballot that gets counted on Election Day is the nation’s great equalizer because it is one of the few instances in which our voice, opinions, and the legacy we seek to leave future generations, readily crosses the expansive divide that is race and class in this country. For the NAACP in particular, unfettered access to the ballot box and the transformative potential of the franchise, is inextricable from who we are and every bit what we must leave for future generations.
Marked by high rates of voter registration and participation that crossed lines of age, gender, race, education and class, in 2008 the nation looked like a truly participatory democracy.
In response however, rather than celebrate the accomplishment the nation plunged into an aggressive and targeted attempt to roll back voting rights. As if disingenuous filters on the franchise and our understanding of its enormous potential never existed, in 2011 thirty-four states questioned the integrity of their own elections in order to justify retrogressive election law changes and now, thirty-one states are barreling down the same regressive road.
Florida is No Exception
A roadmap for pushing those who most participated in 2008 into the margins of democracy, the attack on voting rights seeks to bookend otherwise eligible voters between insurmountable barriers to voter registration and subsequently, voter participation. Florida – where 64 percent of eligible people voted – is no exception as it has been trying to implement retrogressive measures that would:
- Prevent successful voter registration. This includes burdensome and extremely stringent rules for conducting community-based voter registration drives coupled with excessive fines for minor violations. While evidence supporting the need for these changes is scant, one thing is clear: in Florida, minority voters register more frequently through community-based voter registration drives than their white counterparts.
- Prevent voters from casting a ballot. The state is seeking to cut the window of early, in-person, voting in half (and eliminating voting on the Sunday before Election Day). Here too evidence of need is meager but one thing is clear: African American voters represented nearly 20 percent of Florida’s early voters in 2008. Stated differently, more than half of Florida’s African American voters cast an early ballot which included “Souls to the Polls” efforts on the final Sunday before Election Day.
Florida cannot unilaterally implement its proposed changes however, because five of its counties remain subject to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (reserved for states with the most egregious history of voter discrimination). As a result, they must obtain preclearance from the United States Department of Justice or the Courts. Despite the expense, Florida has chosen the courts.
Pushing Back with Substantive Opposition
As we all must in our respective states, the Florida State Conference of the NAACP is pushing back on the national voter suppression attack trying to take root in our state. We have intervened in the case of State of Florida vs. United States of America alongside other allies.
On March 2, 2012 the parties to the lawsuit filed a Joint Status Report, as required by the Court. In this report the State Conference clearly and succinctly opposed preclearance for the state of Florida. So too did our allies as well as the Department of Justice.
At the grassroots level however, more than just shaking our heads at what is taking place, we must raise substantive opposition to what is happening before us and what is surely coming down the pike in 2013. In particular, when amazing and unprecedented levels of voter participation -- which cross lines of age, race, gender, class, and which also mark the historical election of the country’s first African American President – are met with claims that our elections suddenly lack integrity, we must raise substantive opposition if we are to retain access to the place, space and instrument that levels the playing field: the polling booth, the ballot box, and a ballot that gets counted on Election Day.