A big thanks to Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN) for hosting a panel on the plague of voter suppression sweeping states across the country. Megan Donovan of FELN moderated a discussion with Devon Anderson of Black Youth Vote, Robert "Biko" Baker from the League of Young Voters, and Eric Marshall of the Lawyers' Committee. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Photo courtesy of KCIvey on Flickr"][/caption] As E.J. Dionne has written (see here), "An attack on the right to vote is underway across the country." While word is just beginning to spread, many remain unaware that an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill pushed by ALEC members of Congress and backed by conservative state legislators are implementing a poll tax on the constitutional right to vote. "The picture is bleak," admitted Devon Anderson. Anderson made a poignant connection in his address to the session. The year 1866 marks the end of an era we tend to forget - Reconstruction. After Reconstruction, southern Dixiecrats, fearing the loss of their power, sought to bar African Americans from civic participation at all costs. They strategically passed laws that disenfranchised blacks - the grandfather clause, literacy tests, and the poll tax. They did this by taking control of state governments. And they caused division by using low-income whites as local mouthpieces for the rich, conservative right. Voter ID laws, which require that voters present photo identification at the polls, are today's poll tax. Conservative supporters claim it's to protect against voter fraud - basically an imaginary problem. But it's no coincidence that groups who tend to vote Democratic - communities of color, low-income communities, college students, the elderly, veterans, transgender individuals, and the disabled - are the ones affected. As Biko Baker put it, "Young black people [and other strategically selected groups] are being systematically taken out of the civic process." What are people doing to fight back? In Wisconsin (where 78% of young black men 18-24 do not have the required identification to vote), Baker has been going door-to-door to raise awareness about the new requirements and shuttling people to the DMV so they can get proper identification. The Lawyers' Committee has created "voter ID toolkits" to make sure people visiting the DMV have all necessary paperwork. Their interactive "Map of Shame" shows which states have passed a voter suppression law and the customized requirements of each state. And Ohio stunned us all last week by collecting over 200,000 signatures in opposition to HR194, ensuring that the people will have the last word on Ohio government's voter suppression tactics in 2012. Has your state passed a voter suppression bill? Wherever you are, let's spread the word. Marshall put it best: "This isn't just about voting. This is about the future of our country."
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