Less than two months away from the Nov. 3 general election, NAACP President Derrick Johnson suggested three ways for Americans to overcome attempts at voter suppression: policy change, legal action and voter turnout.
“That is the trajectory we must be on,” Johnson said. “We are done dying and public policy is killing us. We must take the power in our own hands.”
Johnson joined a panel Thursday, Sept. 3 titled “From the Mailbox to the Ballot Box: Exercising Your Right to Vote in the Age of COVID-19.” It marked the fourth day of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual legislative conference which was held virtually for the first time.
The conference, usually held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest, will be conducted online through Oct. 2.
This year’s theme, “Now is Our Time,” focuses on the African American participation in the nation’s history and will feature topics on criminal justice reform and statehood for D.C.
A key participant will be missing this year: the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
“It’s not often you get a chance to meet your real-life hero,” said Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.). “When I think about John’s legacy, nothing was more important than voting rights.”
The House voted in December to update the Voting Rights Act with provisions to increase federal supervision on state election policies, mainly in southern states and to eliminate pre-clearance policy changes, such as requiring photo IDs to vote.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2003 ruled the law’s pre-clearance provision focused on data from decades ago that is not relevant to today.
The Democratic-controlled House voted to rename the voting rights bill for Lewis in July, but remains in the Senate, a chamber controlled by the GOP.
On Thursday, the speakers spoke about this year’s election with elected officials in the South such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R). He faces a challenge in Kentucky from Democratic nominee Amy McGrath.
“All Black folks need to be deputized and see themselves responsible for at least 10 voters (to vote),” said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, a nonprofit organization that pushes for Black participation in voter registration through grassroots movement. “Who is setting the policy priorities in this country right now? They’re from Kentucky. They’re from South Carolina…where Black folks are living. It’s not just about participation, but it’s about power.”
Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel for NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said the country faces two pandemics: COVID-19 and racism and voter suppression.
For instance, she mentioned how election officials in Wisconsin opened only five polling locations in Milwaukee during this year’s primary election. The city usually has 180 available in a city with 28 percent Black population, but 70 percent of Blacks have died from COVID-19.
“We’re challenged now to facing how to figure out how to vote, but also vote safely,” Ifill said.
“We’re really demanding that everyone vote not only this Election Day but vote for every office on the ballot. It’s time for Black people to stop leaving power on the table.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Northwest, said the 2020 Census also connects to voting. Some of the data from the census can determine a state’s representation in Congress based on population.
“We’ve got billions of dollars in federal funding based on data,” she said. “If Black folks are not counted, we will lose out on this next round of redistricting.”
For more information on the conference, go to https://www.cbcfinc.org/annual-legislative-conference.