I’m poring over notes created the last few weeks on my laptop, in my notebook and on scraps of paper, in order to explain why this blog exists. In short, Voting Rights 2012 is a collaborative effort between Colorlines.com and The Nation, to report on voter suppression. But that doesn’t explain why this blog exists. Brentin Mock will be writing the bigger picture story, looking at broader national trends from voter ID to voter suppression. Meanwhile, I’ll be augmenting with more of the day-to-day developments, as well working with community journalists, who will be our eyes and ears, since our little team can’t be everywhere at once. Now that I have it down in a short paragraph, it sounds simple enough. But it hardly begins to answer why we’re really here, or why anyone should want to follow our work.
Many readers of The Nation, who follow electoral trends and possess a tendency towards protecting voting rights, might wonder why their coveted magazine (and, increasingly, their online go-to site for political analysis) felt the need to pair up with a site that focuses on racial justice. Meanwhile, some Colorlines.com readers, who may be disenchanted with politics four years after a historic election that resulted in fewer gains for people of color than many hoped for, might wonder why their favorite daily news site is concerned with voting rights—an issue that seemingly only affirms the establishment (as a dear friend recently posted on Facebook, “the Republicrats will win no matter what”). And then, there’s Brentin and I, pressed to write for two intelligent yet not always overlapping audiences, and convince both that what we’re reporting is relevant.
Over the last few years, the narrative about voting rights has drastically changed. We know that the history of who can and cannot vote in the United States is fraught with discrimination against women, the poor and people of color. Some fifty years ago, Fannie Lou Hamer decided to risk her livelihood (to whatever extent sharecropping can be considered a livelihood) and her very life to fight against voter suppression. It was people like Hamer who saw the transformative possibilities attached in simply exercising one’s right to register to vote, and this is what eventually helped secure the Voting Rights Act.
For some readers, the reminder that radical black folks have jeopardized their lives so that future generations could fully participate in this nation’s democracy is a fact that should be celebrated and honored—and these posts will serve as a reminder that, by and large, voter suppression still largely targets people of color. For others, who might feel a detachment with establishment politics, we’ve taken this project on in order to help generate what we feel should be a natural concern for social justice activists.
We’re attentive not only to legislation and bullying tactics that confront people of color, but other communities who are often left out of the analysis. When we read about the Latino vote, we often read about immigration and deportation—but what about those immigrants who are now naturalized citizens? In Florida, immigrant voters have filed suit to protect their right to vote after being made to show proof of citizenship, yet were not provided with any written guarantee that they would be eligible to participate in the upcoming election. As in previous elections, we’ve also read that women may decide the next election, yet working women may soon realize they won’t have the time to jump through all the necessary hoops in order to vote. And although we don’t often read about transgender people in relation to the presidential election, more than 25,000 of them may lose their right to vote—more than a quarter of those live in battleground states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. This is what voter suppression looks like in 2012: yes, it still targets black and poor voters, but it’s also an immigrant, gender and transgender rights issue.
While the Voting Rights Act was crafted to guarantee rights on a national level, we’ve found that the attacks against voting rights are numerous and decentralized, designed to keep activists on the defensive. We felt we wanted to provide these watchdogs an offensive outlet. For that reason, we’ll soon be joined by a team of community journalists who will tip us to and report about mechanisms of harassment that we might otherwise miss. We feel this kind of crowdsourcing will help explain the smaller details that make up the grander scale of voter suppression.
The fact that a person’s race, class and gender may still determine whether they will be targeted for voter suppression should remind us that the collective power of the vote is still a threat. By identifying potential voter suppression threats, we hope to engage people to think about why—nearly fifty years after the Voting Rights Act—some folks are still deemed ineligible to cast a ballot. If their right to go to the polls is honored in November, these marginalized voters may decide what the next administration looks like. In the past few decades, the concern over voting rights was whether someone had access to the voting booth; today, in an increasing number is states, it’s whether someone has a very specific form of identification in order to get past the poll worker. This project contends that it’s time to seriously consider how and why this conceptual shift has occurred, and to spark discussions about how to move forward in a new century.
We do hope you’ll join us.