Alabama is one of several states requiring photo identification to vote in the general election in November. The state also had several motor-vehicle departments shutter in largely-black communities — and many say that’s not a coincidence.
“Where are they closed? Where the majority of African-Americans live. That is a direct slap in the face,” said Bernard Simelton, president of the NAACP’s Alabama State Conference. “We are in a no-win situation unless we get out and vote.”
Simelton and other voting rights advocates spoke on a panel Friday about fighting for voter protection at the 46th annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation conference at the Washington Convention Center in northwest D.C.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan) broke down the portion eliminated from the Voting Rights Act, which established a preclearance obligation that would expire in a certain number of years and allow states to pass their own election rules and procedures. The law was implemented in states with a history of discrimination, most of which were in the South.
“This Congress, and the next, must have the political courage to enact legislation to protect the rights for all Americans,” Conyers said. “What we are going to do with all this information and powerful ideas. I am not tired. Let’s go out here in 50 days and move ahead in the right direction.”
The speakers admitted it won’t be easy and it starts at the local level.
The Rev. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, said 4,000 volunteers in the state are helping to distribute 40,000 voter information cards to encourage people to vote.
Barber emphasized how Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who hasn’t spoken against voter discrimination, has “run a campaign we haven’t seen since [late Alabama Gov.] George Wallace.”
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said poll workers in North Carolina helped a 93-year-old woman vote in the April primary after being told she couldn’t vote with an expired driver’s license.
Clarke said only 36 percent of Americans voted two years ago, the worst percentage in 70 years. She said voter suppression caused some of that fallout, especially when some state officials try to implement changes to voting laws at the last minute.
She said people can call 866-OUR-VOTE whenever there’s a problem at local polling places.
“All around the country we are seeing evidence of voter suppression [and] voter discrimination,” she said. “When you hear election officials say, ‘We’re making some 11th-hour changes because we need to protect the integrity of the process. We should all sit up straight and sound alarms and bells. That means trouble’s afoot. This is when you see some of the worse efforts to turn the clock back and make voting more difficult.”