The 2012 election season is in full swing and while candidates are entering and exiting the stage at a steady pace what’s still up in the air is who the electorate will be.
All around the country individual states are not only redrawing district lines following the census but some are also changing voter identification laws that may significantly reduce the number of first time voters at the polls. Not to mention the normal process of purging voter lists before a federal election (remember Florida in 2000). With our nation becoming increasingly divided over politics and policy, preserving and expanding every citizen’s right to vote must become a top priority.
Following the 2010 census results every state in our nation is currently redrawing district lines that may change the balance of power not only in Washington but also on a state and local level. While the federal government administers the census, the actual process of redistricting is done in the States. In majority of cases, the redistricting process is controlled by the state legislature with approval by the Governor and a small number of states complete the process with an independent commission. The heavy polarization of political parties in states such as Illinois, Texas, North Carolina and California has forced the process to be more about parties maintaining political power rather than drawing fair districts. The redistricting process is technical, heavily political and deliberately doesn’t encourage participation from the average citizen. Yet our lack of participation can have devastating effects to our communities which we will have to live with for another decade.
Controversial redistricting in Illinois, Florida, and North Carolina have prompted some groups to consider lawsuits due to the unfair process and results. Latino groups have already filed suit in Texas where they argue that districts should be more reflective of the increased Hispanic population. 16 states such as Virginia, Louisiana, and North Carolina need approval from the Justice Department due to the 1965 Voting Rights act to ensure that minority voting strength is not diluted.
The attack on the rights of voters doesn’t stop there.
In addition to redistricting, several states across the country are also pursuing Voter ID laws that may significantly reduce the number of first time voters we see at the polls compared to the 2008 election. Since January of this year, thirteen states have pursued voter identification laws with supporters of the measure claiming the need to thwart election fraud. While the actual cases of election fraud are slim to none, voter identification laws adversely affect students, people of color, and seniors who largely vote Democratic. It is not by accident that these measures are largely proposed by Republican controlled legislators and governors seeking to reduce the number of Democrats going to the polls.
Governors in Kansas and South Carolina both signed laws that would require all voters to show photo ID in any election. Wisconsin and Texas prohibit the use of college issued photo ID for first time voters but in the case of Texas allows those with a gun license to vote. Pennsylvania’s proposal would adversely affect the Amish community requiring them to sign a declaration of their faith and have it signed by their Bishop. While the proposal in Ohio is so restrictive that it has even lost support from the Republican Secretary of State.
Instead of expanding and protecting our vote, these laws strangle the voice of American citizens and deprive us of the only right that puts us above money and corporations, our right to cast a vote. Politicians on both sides of the aisle are playing politics with one of our basic rights as citizens, ultimately deciding amongst themselves who can fire and hire them. I applaud the work of independent and non-partisan organizations that are monitoring and advocating on the behalf of voters such as the League of Women Voters, Brennan Center for Justice and the NAACP. Yet we must join them and become defenders of our own rights as voters. This time our voice must be heard before Election Day or come the second Tuesday in November your only choice may be to watch from the sidelines.
L. Joy Williams is a political strategist and founder of LJW Community Strategies, a boutique government and public affairs firm based in New York. Ms. Williams is a frequent commentator on politics, race and pop culture and is co-host of the widely popular podcast Blacking It Up! which airs live Mon-Thurs 1:30pm est.