FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 17, 2014
DURHAM - While the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP appreciates the fact that a bipartisan effort has been made to amend and update the 1965 Voting Rights Act, we have some serious concerns and objections to the proposal which has just been introduced in the U.S. Congress. On January 16, 2014, Congressmen John Conyers (D-MI), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and other co-sponsors introduced legislation which is intended to replace Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This provision was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in its recent Shelby County v. Holder decision. That decision had the effect of gutting the Section 5 pre-clearance mandate of the Voting Rights Act. Since 1965, the Section 5 mandate had been successfully used by the United States Department of Justice and Civil Rights organizations to prevent covered jurisdictions from enacting voting laws and regulations which had the effect of discriminating against racial minorities.
A preliminary examination of the proposed provisions of this legislation convinces us that it falls woefully short of what is needed to protect all people from race-based efforts to curtail the voting potential of people of color. We certainly see this proposal as a starting point, there is much work to be done before these provisions can be deemed to be equivalent to the protections which Section 5 provided over the years.
Any voting rights proposal which does not recognize and address the widespread voting suppression efforts which are presently occurring in North Carolina is defective. As presently written, the proposal would not mandate that North Carolina be designated as a jurisdiction which would be subject to pre-clearance. This is the State which leads the country in recognized and judicially determined voting rights violations since the introduction of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This long history dates back to the landmark cases of Thornburg v. Gingles in 1986 and Shaw v. Hunt in 1992. In response to the passage of the most sweeping voter suppression legislation in the United States, North Carolina is presently being sued in State and federal courts for enacting laws designed to curtail the votes of racial minorities. Passage of this proposed legislation would have the effect of endorsing the race-based actions of the North Carolina General Assembly. The North Carolina State Conference of Branches of the NAACP is not willing to accept any legislation which does not mandate that North Carolina is designated as a covered jurisdiction.
Another major defect with this proposed legislation is the exemption that the law would provide for voter identification statutes. Voter ID is an abhorrent and offensive to voting rights as were poll taxes and the literacy tests which are now outlawed by the Voting Rights Acts. The exemption which the bill drafters seek to give to Voter ID legislation is no more than a pandering to right wing regressive political forces who are the present-day architects of voter suppression efforts around the country.
As written, this bill does not protect the rights of racial minorities against discrimination at the polls. As the nation's oldest and largest Civil Rights organization with a massive membership base, we have the responsibility to insure that any legislation which is enacted must protect the best interests of our members, our community and the democratic principles espoused in our constitution. Our mission is to stand on the side of equal protection under the law and not to merely celebrate political compromise, especially where it has the intent or effect of undermining our hard-won political victories. In that light, this legislation looks like an effort to proclaim that this is the best that we can do with these Republicans in power rather than being drafted from the perspective of "how do we maximize political protections for racial minorities which are consistent with our constitution and the 1965 Voting rights act?". Political protections in our democracy should be unfettered, the rights of every voter should be recognized and every vote must be properly counted.
Accordingly, we plan to meet with North Carolina's elected leaders in the U.S. House and Senate as well as our National NAACP leadership to amend and fix this proposed legislation. We have already contacted other State Branches of the NAACP and other Civil Rights organizations who oppose and/or support this proposal. It is our plan to fight as hard to amend and fix this proposal as we are presently fighting against the voter suppression efforts here in North Carolina.
One of the most important and fundamental rights of racial minorities is the right to vote. Since the NAACP was organized in 1909, voting rights has been at the top of our agenda and it remains in that position today. Voting rights is the life-blood of a vibrant and politically connected people and we will not stand by passively and allow political compromise to destroy the hard-gained victories for voting rights for racial minorities in this country. We look forward to an opportunity to engage in the debate about this proposed legislation as this idea moves through the legislative process. We will call upon the 1,200 NAACP units from around the country to monitor their districts for additional evidence of racially discriminatory voting practices in their locales which can serve as further examples of the concerns and objections which we presently have about this proposal.