NAACP speaks on voter disenfranchisement
The night before the midterm election, an event in the Newman Library Building was held titled “Defending Democracy and the Right to Vote.”Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People legal defense and educational fund, spoke about the challenges and privileges of voting. Nelson began by stating that the U.S. government isn’t perfect, but one must remember that it is still one of the most democratic governments in the world.
“The idea of a government by and for people remains very much alive in the United States,” Nelson said.
However, she continued by saying that our democracy is currently under attack. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited states from implementing discriminatory voting requirements such as a poll tax and literary tests. However, in Section 5 of the act, the provision that requires states to get federal approval or “preclearance” before making changes to voting requirements is no longer in effect.
Since Section 5 was dropped in 2013, 24 states have enacted new voting laws, such as ID requirements. States like North Dakota even require a street address to be on the ID. This disenfranchises a majority of homeless people and Native Americans, who often don't have street addresses on their IDs. Nelson added that practices like gerrymandering are huge acts of voter oppression because when the government can essentially draw lines that lessen the impact of voters, it defeats the notion that politicians should be chosen based on their character.
Then, Nelson talked about citizens who are left out of the voting process. The idea that someone who has been convicted of a crime can never vote again is unfair, Nelson said, and the prison system has become a system of mass incarceration of black and brown people and the government essentially erases them from the community. “It is these very voices that did not succeed in society or who society failed who we need to hear from most urgently,” Nelson said. “… It’s no accident that voter ID laws require showing of picture IDs that white people are more likely to possess.”
While Nelson remained optimistic throughout her speech, she made sure to discuss the issue of white supremacy toward the end. Nelson mentioned the tragic hate crimes that occurred recently in Kentucky and Pittsburgh. Two black people were fatally shot in a Kroger grocery store and 11 people were killed at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Nelson said in spite of this, she still has a lot of hope for America. She said America is going through hard times, but the NAACP has dealt with hard times before, and all that can be done is move forward.
“[The midterms] will mark the first election in which a majority of eligible voters are millennials. This group is also the most diverse group of voters,” Nelson said.