African American voters will not sit out the upcoming election despite President Obama’s absence from the ballot, several Black lawmakers said—but they aren’t taking any chances with voter suppression.
Reps. Marc Veasey (D-Texas), Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) and Bobby Scott (D-Va.) launched a new Congressional Voting Rights Caucus on May 25 to address what they described as an immediate need to overcome the barriers that minority communities face when exercising their right to vote.
The goal of the new caucus is to educate the public on current voter suppression tactics taking place in their home states, districts, and counties, and to inform the public about their rights as voters.
The caucus also plans to advance legislation blocking current and future discrimination which may deny Americans their right to vote, according to Veasey, who held a press conference with nearly a dozen lawmakers and voter rights advocates.
“I know firsthand the work that remains to be done to ensure all Americans have unfettered access to the ballot box,” said Veasey, the chair of the new caucus and also the lead plaintiff in a Texas lawsuit over voter ID laws.
Voter suppression efforts have been cropping up in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder that dismantled key provisions of the original Voting Rights Act. Voter ID laws are designed to stop African Americans, Latinos, the elderly, poor and young voters from participating by requiring them to produce specific identification at the polls.
In addition, Democratic front runner Hillary Clinton will need African American votes to make a successful run for the White House, several Black lawmakers said. They noted that Black voters are intelligent enough to realize that they have to vote against a Donald Trump presidency.
“That terror that Donald Trump instills, in terms of taking America back to a place of great racial animus and hostility, will serve to create a level of enthusiasm to stop him from replacing Barack Obama,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). “We have to make sure that our communities are vigilant in the face of efforts to suppress the vote in order to elect individuals like Donald Trump.”
Asked about the possibility of lower Black voter turnout without Obama, Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) expressed faith in the community.
“Let us hope that Black voters are far more intelligent and far more sophisticated than that,” he said. “The world goes on without Obama. We’ve got to be prepared to deal with the world without that.”
According to the Cook Political Report, a respected national journal that tracks American political races, the key to the 2016 races may be whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party can motivate Blacks to continue setting records for voter turnout.
Census Bureau records show that the rate of African American voter turnout has been rising, and in 2008 and 2012, was essentially even with the White vote. The Cook Political Report notes that African-American voters were responsible for Obama’s victories in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, and Nevada.
The “African-American coalition is the critical keystone for a Democratic Electoral College victory,” according to the report.
In the 114th Congress, House Democrats have introduced bills to update, fix, and strengthen the voting rights act, including H.R. 2867, the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, and H.R. 885, the Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2015.
Other members of the new voting rights caucus include: Reps. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio), Congressional Black Caucus Chair G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), David Cicilline, (D-R.I.) John Conyers (D-Mich.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), and Rick Larsen (D-Wash.).