The Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference hosted a Townhall on voter suppression this week. The townhall was moderated by Columbia professor Marc Lamont Hill and featured Ron Christie; Crystal Wright; Donna Brazile; Congresswoman Marcia Fudge; Congressman John Lewis; Congressman Melvin Watts; and Reverend Al Sharpton. Remarks were given by Chair of the DNC Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver.
At the beginning of the townhall, Congressman Cleaver told a story about his grandfather, who never voted because he refused to the pay the poll tax that Blacks were required to pay in order to vote before the passing of the Voting Rights Act. He gave historical context to voter suppression and reminded the audience of the restrictions that were placed on African Americans during the Jim Crow era. “[Not voting] is an insult to those who have fought for the right to vote,” Rep. Cleaver said in his remarks. Civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis told the audience about how voter ID laws is a return to the discrimination that he and others faced during the civil rights movement, and an undoing of all the work they had done to protect and preserve the right to vote. “I gave a little blood for the right to vote,” Rep. Lewis said.
Panelists also discussed voter ID laws as an issue of class as well as race. 25% of African Americans do not have a valid ID, but obtaining and ID also comes with a cost. If a person needs to obtain an ID they also need to have their birth certificate, but if the birth certificate is unavailable, receiving a new one can also be costly. The conservative voices on the panel, Crystal Wright and Ron Christie agreed obtaining an ID to vote should be easy and free of charge, though they do not believe that voter ID laws are racially motivated. “My mama told me that when you change the rules in the middle of the game, that’s cheating,” said Donna Brazile. And that is at the core voter suppression – a drastic and unfair change in voting rights that puts African American voters at a disadvantage.
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