By passing voter ID laws, conservative legislatures are denying the franchise to those who have fought hardest for it.
Last week, I participated in the New Organizing Institute BlackRoots NewMedia BootCamp. I had the privilege of joining 31 organizers representing communities of color from across the country to be trained in online organizing. As part of the training, each organizer was placed on a team to develop an online fictional campaign over the course of the week. For this boot camp, we developed a campaign around the issue of voter suppression.
My team took on a situation where the fictional “State X” legislature was considering a plan that would require the state’s voters to present two forms of identification in order to protect against voter fraud. The state senator who represented my team’s community was on the fence as he recognized that his rural constituency would have difficulty obtaining the additional identification.
Sadly, this scenario reflects a regressive trend that is all too real. Since 1920, the United States has expanded voting rights in three significant ways: the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted women the right to vote; the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which ended racial barriers to voting; and the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18. Now, conservative legislatures throughout the U.S. are passing voter identification laws that disenfranchise women, young people, and communities of color.
FDR once said, “We are trying to construct a more inclusive society. We are going to make a country in which no one is left out.” I am a Millennial and at least 24 percent of the voting age population in 2012 will be under 30 years old. Approximately 14 million adults between the ages of 18 and 29 will be enrolled in degree-granting institutions in 2012. But instead of trying to bring these potential young voters to the polls, legislators are making every effort to turn them away. In states such as Indiana, voters must present photo identification with an expiration date issued by the state or U.S. government. This prevents students who are attending private institutions from using their school identification. Legislators claim that such laws are intended to prevent voter fraud; however, there is little evidence that voter fraud is a problem in the United States.
Houses have been burned down; families have been torn apart; people have fought, gone to jail, and died for the right to vote. Voting provides the opportunity to decide, and that is powerful. Suppressing voters and denying them the power to decide excludes them from the political and policymaking process. We need to take back that power and make our voting system more inclusive.
Dante Barry is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network’s Chapter Services Coordinator and Summer Academy Coordinator.
Image via Getty.