CRCDS President Dr. Marvin A. McMickle recently submitted this entry to the Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle's Unite Rochester blog:
Fifty years ago the passage of the Voting Rights Act signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson offered a promise of the end of all the voter suppression tactics aimed primarily at African American voters ranging from literacy tests, to poll taxes, to outright intimidation. The Voting Rights Act also offered the hope of a substantially increased African American electorate whose newly expanded access to the political process would alter the American political landscape over time.
Fifty years later the most important section of the Voting Rights Act was thrown out by the U.S. Supreme Court; the section that required prior approval by the Justice Department or a Federal District Court judge to any changes in voting rules for ten states that had the most sever voter suppression against African Americans prior to 1965. Immediately after that ruling by the court most of those ten states joined by other states with largely Republican dominated state legislatures have reintroduced new voter suppression laws. They include showing government-issued IDs, restrictions on early voting , limits to same-day registration, and attempts to end Sunday voting which became extremely successful in the 2008 and 2012 election cycles. All of these changes were cloaked in language about preventing voter fraud even though some of the states that adopted these rules could not point to a single instance of voter fraud dating back twelve years.
Equally troubling is the fact that while voter suppression tactics are going up,
black voter participation is going down in all but the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections when Barack Obama was on the ballot. It is important to remember that all of the events in Ferguson, Missouri could have been avoided if black voters who are the population majority had voted higher than the 14% that voted in the last several local and state elections. The presence of a white mayor, a white police chief, a white district attorney and a 90% white police force were a direct result of black residents who either did not register or did not vote. Those political dynamics were as responsible for the death of Michael Brown as the bullets fired from Daryl Wilson' gun. Black citizens of Ferguson quickly realized this problem, and as a result of the last election cycle they now have a black mayor and a black police chief. Black lives matter, but so do black voters!
Fifty years later the issue of voting rights and increasing voter suppression is back in the news, but so is the problem of declining black voter participation. The Voting Rights Act provided access to the voting booth, but it did not and cannot mandate or motivate people to exercise that right. With the 2016 election season already underway the outcome may well be determined by these two trends; an increase in voter suppression by some states and a self-imposed decrease in black voter participation. I am hoping for a reversal of both trends.