ESSENCE OP-ED: Wake Up! Voter Suppression Is Not Dead
In our latest op-ed, Rev. Dr. William Barber, II takes a deep dive into the major problem plaguing Black communities each election cycle.
Our most fundamental constitutional right in the United States of America is the right to vote. Voting in our democracy is so sacred that people in this country have marched, faced fire hoses and police batons, and even given their lives to win and protect access to the ballot box.
However, our victories in the fight for voting rights are under attack by Republicans from the halls of Congress to statehouses across the country. Voter suppression in the United States is not dead and our generation must take up the fight to stop it.
For decades, grandfather clauses, poll taxes, and literacy tests were enacted to disenfranchise Black voters. Today, voter suppression continues to hide behind the letter of the law. My home state of North Carolina has become ground zero for the fight against voter suppression in this country.
North Carolina Republicans launched efforts to restrict voter access in 2010 with photo ID laws, but were thwarted by our Democratic governor. However, the state GOP was able to gerrymander our districts along racial lines, leading to a GOP super-majority in the legislature and eventually a Republican governorship. This triggered a series of legislation that changed the face of the North Carolina electorate.
By 2013, Republicans in the state legislature placed voting rights in their crosshairs. In April of that year, they passed the most regressive photo ID law in the country. Their efforts were boosted by the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which rolled back protections enumerated in the Voting Rights Act.
“Voter fraud wasn’t a concern until the 2008 elections when a Black man was at the top of the ticket…”
Under the cover of this decision, they proceeded to legislate away voter protections like same-day registration, early voting, out of precinct ballots and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds. As president and the North Carolina NAACP, I led a coalition of community groups to file suit against the state the same day this monstrous bill was passed.
The Moral Mondays movement was born of this resistance to laws that targeted Black voting rights with surgical precision. As our case made its way through a serpentine judicial process, we unleashed an unprecedented wave of non-violent civil disobedience on the state capital, risking arrest in protest of extremist GOP policies.
Ultimately, in 2016, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously voted to overturn most of the restrictive provisions of the law, admonishing the legislature for “imposing cures to problems that did not exist.” Our efforts are documented in the upcoming film, Capturing the Flag.
While our victory came ahead of the 2016 elections, voters in North Carolina still faced barriers to the ballot box. Districts remained racially gerrymandered and North Carolinians found themselves purged from voter rolls. This problem isn’t unique to North Carolina — voter suppression persists in every corner of our country.
Extremists like to hide their racist intentions behind the threat of “voter fraud.” But let’s consider the fact that voter fraud wasn’t a concern until the 2008 election when a Black man was at the top of the ticket and voters of color surged to the polls.
That is when so-called “voter fraud” became the rallying cry of the Right. In North Carolina, the majority white legislature crafted legislation to suppress the Black vote not out of fear of “voter fraud” but in malicious legislative malpractice.
Our right to vote is the most powerful tool we have against this extremism and immorality. If it wasn’t, Republicans would not be fighting this hard to repress it. They know how powerful our voices can be when united.
They are afraid. By suppressing our right to vote, they’re limiting our ability to fight their attacks on our health care, our labor rights, our taxes, our environment, and the soul of our nation.
We have to stand up to the party in power. We have to turn our brothers and sisters out to vote. We have to continue to show up to the polls and fight this suppression. This is not a fight we can choose to ignore or become complacent in. This is an ongoing battle.
These Republican extremists are engaging in serious efforts to capture this nation’s flag but we are the resistance needed to hold our ground.
This op-ed was originally published by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II online at Essence.com.