Capitol Thoughts
Capitol Thoughts Archive

What’s the Magic Word? VOTING! by Janaye Ingram

May 04, 2012

May 4, 2012

About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with a few young women, most of whom are in college as part of my work as a board member for a national women’s organization. While there, the topic of voter suppression came up. Admittedly, it was during an exercise where the girls had 30 seconds to talk about an issue that they may or may not have known something about. But when the young lady got the topic and started talking, it was clear that she knew nothing about the issue. Other young women in the room were just, if not more clueless as to some of the political issues that we are facing. It saddened me, frustrated me, and more than anything else, gave me cause for concern.

This Sunday, May 6th, we will be 6 months away from the election. And yet, six months out, we are still trying to fight back against attacks on voting rights. Though we have marched, talked, tweeted, and written about this issue for months, if not longer, six months out and there are still too many people who don’t know that when they get to the polls, there’s a chance that they might be turned away for not having the proper id. There are elderly and low-income people who are used to casting their ballot early and will arrange their travel for a certain day, but will be turned away because their state cut down on early voting days. There will be students who will not be able to vote using their student id and upon figuring that out will realize that they won’t be able to vote at all. And there will be people who moved within the same state who don’t realize that they needed to re-register especially in states where same day registrations aren’t allowed.  If and when that happens it will be the greatest tragedy at the polls since the hanging chad.  No, actually, it will be greater.

In the 2008 election, African Americans turned out en masse at the polls. Black women led voting among all demographics. Black youth between the ages of 18-24 led voting within their age group. And black voter turnout nearly matched white voter turnout.  Latino voting increased from the last Presidential election as well. And after that, states and organizations who didn’t want to see that type of political force decided they needed to do something to stop it. During a Tea Party Rally, a New Hampshire legislator, William O’Brien, said of college students, “They don’t have life experience and they just vote their feelings and they’re taking away the town’s ability to govern themselves.  It’s not fair.”

An older statement from 1980 by Paul Weyrich further exemplifies the movement to stop certain segments of the populations from voting when he said plainly, “I don’t want everybody to vote.  Elections are not won by a majority of people.” And since then, a group that Weyrich co-founded, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC),  along with a majority of states in the country have introduced, if not passed, legislation that has the potential to disenfranchise black, Latino, elderly, young, and disabled voters. Voting has more constitutional protections than any other right, yet here we are in the 21st century discussing 19th & 20th century issues. But more strikingly is that while we are discussing these issues, it seems like the discussion is not being heard by those outside of the politically engaged and aware community. Despite the fact that we’ve seemingly been yelling it from the mountaintop, there are people who are in the valley who simply don’t know that the laws exist, much less how it will affect them.

In reality, EVERYONE must know.  And when I say everyone, I mean everyone, but especially those whose vote will be lost if they continue to be ignorant to the issue.  With six months to go until this crucially important election, too many people are STILL unaware.  According to the National Council of State Legislatures, there are a total of 30 states that have laws that will require voters to show IDs at the polls in November.  While our lawyer friends in the civil rights community are working diligently to overturn some of these laws, we need the other segments of our community to move strategically as if the laws will still be in place.   In order to really get to everyone, we need to be more all-inclusive and we need to meet people where they are.  We need to infuse this into conversations on college campuses and into Sunday brunch gatherings.  This needs to have top billing on websites in the same way that Trayvon did.  Lifestyle blogs need to have some mention of it at the very least. If you aren’t talking about voting rights at this phase of the game, you aren’t saying anything.   This is monumental and life changing.  If we don’t all get on the same page, we will lose the one thing that is supposed to be one of our most protected rights – voting.  We don’t have time to waste.  The magic word is voting.  If you aren’t saying it, you will be left behind and you will potentially take the rest of us with you.