Mitt Romney is going to address the 103rd convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Wednesday.
Good. In recent years, Republican politicians have tended to criticize the NAACP, when they should be reaching out to the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. Romney’s acceptance of the group’s invitation is the right response and he gets credit for showing up at the convention in Houston.
The Republican presidential contender’s topic Wednesday will be “civic engagement.”
Very good. In the United States, a republic that bends toward democracy, the highest form of civic engagement has historically taken the form of voting. Americans have suffered and struggled and died for the right to vote.
As NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous wisely notes: “If you let someone diminish the power of your vote you will already have lost a battle.”
Unfortunately, the NAACP and allied groups have been forced to re-fight too many old battles on behalf of voting rights in recent years.
Republican legislators in states across the country, working in conjunction with the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council—and, it was recently learned, the Republican National Committee—have sought to enact and implement so-called “voter ID” laws. These laws have been condemned by good government groups, including the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, as assaults on voting rights.
The vVoter ID laws, new restrictions on same-day registration and early-voting, purges of voting lists and other voter suppression schemes pose particular threats to civic engagement by African-American voters and others who have historically faced discrimination based on their race, ethnicity or national origin.
“Our democracy is literally under attack from within. We have wealthy interests seeking to buy elections and when that ain’t enough, suppress the vote,” says Jealous. “There is no battle that is more important or urgent to the NAACP right now than the battle to preserve democracy itself. Let me be very clear, our right to vote is the right upon which our ability to defend every other right is leveraged.”
At the convention in Houston, Jealous and other NAACP activists have made the defense of voting rights a central focus. They are right to do so, especially in Texas, where local Republicans have been calling for the elimination of the Voting Rights Act—and where a newly passed voter ID law has been described by Attorney General Eric Holder as a twenty-first-century variation on the “poll tax.”
The question that Romney must answer Wednesday is a simple one: Which side is he on?
Is Romney on the side of the NAACP and campaigners for voting rights—including Republicans like his father, George Romney—or is he on the side of those who would suppress the vote?
If the prospective Republican nominee for president is really interested in “civic engagement,“ he will call out those in his own party who seek to suppress voting rights.