Stopping voter suppression. That was a primary topic at the 2014 NAACP national convention as participants looked ahead to the crucial midterm elections in November that will decide control of both the U.S. House and Senate.
In a speech to convention attendees in Las Vegas, new NAACP President and CEO Cornell William Brooks stressed that each vote will have an even bigger impact this fall — making voter protections more critical. He said the NAACP would focus on turning out the vote this fall and rallying support to restore the full power of the Voting Rights Act that the U.S. Supreme Court gutted.
Lighter turnouts in “off-year elections only emphasize the degree to which we need a full and robust Voting Rights Act,” Brooks told the convention. In 2012, Black voters turned out at a higher rate than White voters for the first time in American history, helping re-elect President Obama.
But in the 2010 midterm elections, Black voter participation was considerably lower, and the GOP took control of the U.S. House, along with many state and local offices.
“As a result, we saw a wave of voter suppression laws,” Jotaka Eaddy, the NAACP’s voting rights director, said at a panel discussion focusing on the issue. Some 22 states have new and more restrictive voting laws that will go into effect before the Nov. 4 election, she said. She cited Republican-controlled North Carolina, Kansas, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Tennessee as examples of states that are making it more difficult for Democratic-leaning African-Americans and young people to cast ballots.
The NAACP cited the efforts of the Obama administration to oppose the wave of restrictions. Attorney General Eric Holder drew praise for his pre-convention announcement that the U.S. Department of Justice would intervene to support court challenges to laws in Wisconsin and Ohio that limit voting. Hilary O. Shelton, vice president for policy and advocacy for the NAACP, said that the wave of laws that mostly GOP governors are pushing are aimed at keeping low-income and minority voters out of the voting booth.
“In many areas of our country, it’s very difficult to elect an African-American. And some people are saying, ‘Why bother?’” Shelton said.This year’s convention coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and “Freedom Summer,” a 1964 effort to overcome White supremacist control of Mississippi by registering African-Americans to vote. Last year, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision threw out a section of the Voting Rights Act that required certain states with a history of discrimination to get federal clearance before changing voting laws and practices — a case that opened the door for states to impose the new restrictions.Virginia is one of those states.
The Republican dominated General Assembly has pushed through a bill requiring voters to show photo IDs to cast ballots as a result of the high court’s decision. Shelton said he believes the GOP is pushing voter suppression because the party is threatened by the rising tide of young voters,Latinos and African-Americans and those groups lean heavily Democratic. He said the GOP would have to align itself more with issues important to Black people,including efforts to help them obtain jobs, housing and education, if the party wants to attract such voters.
“It’s like, you can invite me to the party, but if you’re not serving the food I want to eat or playing the music I want to dance to, I’m not coming,” Shelton said. One highlight of this year’s convention was an address by Vice President Joe Biden, who spoke on Wednesday, the closing day. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and two Nevada House members, Dina Titus and Steven Horsford, the state’s first Black congressman,also spoke at the convention.