HOUSTON (NNPA) – The NAACP has always had a concentrated effort to get people of color registered to vote, but due to recent suppression measures, NAACP officials say that’s only half the battle. Now, it’s just as important to make sure voters are at the polls on Election Day.
The nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization addressed voting – as well as other pressing issues – as members gathered in Houston for the 103rd Annual National Convention through Thursday, July 12.
This year’s convention theme “NAACP: Your Power, Your Decision – Vote” focused on the importance and voter participation and the impact of voting on all aspects of our lives, including economic policy, health care, education and more.
“In this election year it is especially important for us to come together and discuss the challenges facing communities of color and the nation as a whole,” said NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock…The NAACP will continue to educate, mobilize and agitate to create an informed populace, so that every American feels they have the privilege and the power to go to the ballot box and exercise their right to vote.”
NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous echoed Brock’s sentiments.
“America recently witnessed the most significant assault on voter access in more than a century,” Jealous said. “We are going to answer that assault by working through Election Day to register more voters, educate them on the new rules to ensure they have full access at the ballot box and turn out to vote.”
It’s that potential turnout that has some political scientists concerned. Nathan Mitchell, an assistant professor of political science at Prairie View A&M University, said if voters aren’t mobilized, we could see a repeat of the 2010 midterm elections, when Black voter turnout was down compared to 2008.
Mitchel said there “was a lot of excitement” about President Obama in 2008, but voter interest declined two years later. “In Texas we saw almost a 20 percent drop in turnout, which is kind of typical of midterm elections anyway, but it allowed the Tea Party to take over,” Mitchell said.
“That’s why it’s important for the NACCP and others trying to mobilize people. If you look at historical data since 2000, in Texas presidential elections there has been 50-60 percent turnout for election-year races. We saw a historical turnout in 2008; people voted who never voted before and I think that really helped the Democratic Party.”
Now, Mitchell said, turnout is likely to be lower for both parties.
“Republicans are not excited about Romney at all. Democrats are lukewarm toward President Obama,” he said. “Then you have the fact that it’s hard for people to look past a singular issue like gay marriage or abortion…“ That’s why it’s important for interest groups to really push what matters. A lot of these issues like gay marriage and abortion are to divide people up instead of focusing on what’s really important. What’s really important is the economy. I think voters need to look critically at Obama and Romney and see who’s going to be best for the economy and staying at home is not the answer.”
Franklin Jones, professor and chair of political science at Texas Southern University, said threats such as voter ID laws and redistricting could also affect voter turnout.
“The most immediate impact will be the reduction in the number of Black registered voters because they fail to provide the required identification materials or are hampered in getting to the registration offices,” Jones said. “The numbers will vary based on the efforts to get people registered and the intensity of the states to suppress the minority vote. A 5 percent drop could be critical in tight contests.”
The NAACP has already implemented efforts to mobilize Black voters – from supporting the Voter Empowerment Act, which focuses on guaranteeing early voting, allowing same-day registration, outlawing “voter caging,” counting provisional ballots, and penalizing voter intimidation – to activating its Election Day Command Center on Nov. 4.
The Command Center will act as “war room” of sorts, where the NAACP, in partnership with state and local organizations, legal advisors, community and faith leaders, and its 1,700 branches across the country, will be working to ensure the integrity of the voting process.
Many NAACP units will also provide rides to the polls for those who do not have transportation. This is My Vote, the only non-partisan 50-state electoral program in the country, will conduct a Get Out The Vote (GOTV) campaign near Election Day. The campaign will use door-to-door canvassing, registration booths at public events and work with churches throughout the state to help attract and turn out new voters.
“From voting rights attacks to institutionalized racial profiling programs to the gross disparities in the American classroom, we are in the midst of a coordinated attack on civil rights in this country,” said Jealous. “Our 103rd Annual Convention in Houston is an opportunity to set an agenda for how we fight back against these attacks and expand rights over the next 100 years.”