Four years ago, Americans celebrated the election of our nation’s first black president, a monumental moment. And this year marks the 47th anniversary of the Voting Right Act of 1965, the landmark legislation that has protected the constitutional rights of tens of millions of Americans. Both of these events have led many Americans to believe that the need to vigilantly protect voting rights is a thing of the past.
But as Election Day approaches, the protections found in our voting rights laws are in danger for millions of our fellow citizens. Recently, we have seen what some have called a movement towards Jim Crow-like restrictions on voting rights. It’s happening right before our eyes and in our own backyards.
Before 2006, no state had voter identification laws on the books, and registration requirements remained largely unchanged. But that has shifted dramatically over the past year. Since the beginning of 2011, 176 restrictive voting bills have been proposed in 41 states, and some have become law in 14 states. Proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, is required to register and vote in 12 states. Thirteen states have introduced proposals that limit voter registration opportunities, while other states have engaged in voter roll purging efforts that have been subject to litigation. Still, more states have cut back the days early voting is available.
Up to 5 million voters have been affected by these laws, and what’s worse is that young people are disproportionately affected. Five states — Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin — will require voters to display a government-issued photo ID before voting. These new requirements could be very detrimental to minorities. The Black Youth Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to increasing civic engagement and voter participation in black and under-served communities, estimates that as many as 25 percent of African Americans do not possess government-issued photo identification. This could have a chilling effect on turnout in an era when civic participation among minority youth is on the rise.
According to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), youth voting rose from 38 percent to 51 percent between the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, with 62 percent of voter-eligible college-educated students casting a ballot. Student leaders must mobilize their campus community so that is has the tools and resources necessary to produce a higher turnout for the November election, as well as future contests.
To that end, IMPACT, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to engage and build a network of young professionals of color to increase political involvement and enhance economic empowerment opportunities, has launched the #VoteReady campaign in partnership with several nonprofit, nonpartisan organizations. This movement is designed to increase voter education and engagement among college students, young professionals and those disproportionately affected by voter disenfranchisement laws. The ultimate goal is to prepare, engage, and educate citizens by informing them about what they need to be #VoteReady.
IMPACT will work to ensure that Americans, specifically students and young professionals, have the resources needed to be #VoteReady on Nov. 6. In accordance with this goal, we have developed a #VoteReady tool kit to help college students organize town hall events to educate and empower peers, colleagues and community members.
We hope you will join our team in this effort. Remember, it takes only one person willing to make a difference. Just one person willing to do the work to empower others to change the world. We must accept this challenge. We must protect the rights that our ancestors fought, bled and died for to ensure our walk in the fullness of our citizenship in our country.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Young people — this is our time to lead, our time to protect our futures and our time to have our voices heard. The question is: Are you #VoteReady? Will you join us to ensure others are #VoteReady? Will you impact your world?