On August 6th, 1965 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, designed to provide every American with an equal right to vote for the first time in our nation’s history.
Over 40 years after one of the most important pieces of federal legislation went into action, Shelby County, Alabama presented the U.S. Attorney General and U.S. District Court of D.C. with a lawsuit arguing that Section 4(b) and 5 of the Voting Rights Act were unconstitutional.
And in 2013, Shelby v. Holder reached a conclusion and in a 5-4 vote section 4(b) was in fact deemed unconstitutional. But, what was the significance of this section?
Section 4(b) essentially makes Section 5 possible, which required any states with a history of voter discrimination to receive pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice before enacting any changes to voting laws.
Additionally as a result of this, the DOJ announced that it would be scaling back the presence of election observers who are tasked with monitoring the polls for any instances of voter discrimination or intimidation.
So, open season was upon us. That is, if your primary target is hindering the vote rights of minorities, the elderly and young people all in one swoop, but particularly minorities.
North Carolina was arguably the most egregious offender:
“Before enacting that law, the legislature requested data on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices. Upon receipt of the race data, the General Assembly enacted legislation that restricted voting and registration in five different ways, all of which disproportionately affected African Americans,”
“Although the new provisions target African Americans with almost surgical precision, they constitute inapt remedies for the problems assertively justifying them and, in fact, impose cures for problems that did not exist.” –Judge Diana Gribbon Motz
With. Almost. Surgical. Precision. That is what not only the African American community is dealing with, but many other groups as well.
In August alone, Courts ruled that six states, including North Carolina (also Texas, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Kansas), must remove laws or portions of laws that disproportionately target minority groups. But, this is just the tip of the iceberg, as there are still 12 states currently using strict restrictions.
These restrictions often involve the requirement of a photo ID, the disallowance of same-day registration, straight-ticket voting (for example, selecting “vote straight-ticket Democrat” on a ballot), and a reduction in voting sites in targeted areas (which create long lines and discourages voters).
Imagine if you didn’t have a car or go to college or have the privilege of traveling abroad, would you have a photo ID? Most likely not. And registration deadlines in many states come at relatively unpublicized times, two of Trump’s own kids couldn’t even vote for him in the NY Primary, so the removal of same-day registration burdens thousands if not more.
Unfortunately, voter registration issues go far beyond the inclusion of, let’s just put it out in the open, racist laws inspired by the Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder.
In 2012, before the protections covered under the VRA were considerably weakened, there were 3.7m unregistered black voters, 3.2m unregistered Hispanic voters and 750,000 unregistered Asian voters.
Oh, and did I mention that’s only the figures from people living in the “Black Belt,” which covers areas of a mere 11 states.
This area is woefully neglected and has an untapped potential to make a major impact on elections as former NAACP President and CEO, Benjamin Jealous stated:
“All in all, the report found that registering 60 percent of unregistered black, Hispanic, and Asian voters would upset the balance of power in Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas in either a presidential or midterm election year. In a presidential election year, Alabama would be added to the list.”
In addition, according to Statistic Brain, of the 218,959,000 eligible voters in the United States just 66.8% are registered to vote.
Cue Chance the Rapper, hip-hop legend in the making and a young man pushing the boundaries of the impact an artist can have.
Beginning on September 24th at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago and continuing all the way through each tour stop up until October 24th, Chance along with the help of the NAACP will provide the resources necessary to register to vote in the upcoming election.
Many celebrities have participated in campaigns to encourage voting in the past, but few have gone above and beyond to address the issue of enhancing accessibility and convenience.
Chancellor Bennet aka Chance the Rapper, is quickly cementing himself as an artist who represents the mindset of the modern 20-something year olds and is well on his way to becoming the voice for that group as well.
“Voting and becoming knowledgeable about this year’s upcoming presidential election is imperative. With a great deal of help from the NAACP, I have been able to provide this awesome opportunity for people to sign up and make the pledge to vote at a few of my upcoming shows.”
“This is super important to me because I want my fans to know that their voices matter and that their vote counts now more than ever.”
We live in a country that provides us with a unique opportunity to have our voices heard and enact change when we approach issues in numbers. However, for much of our history these efforts have been splintered as a result of one roadblock or another.
Problems with voting registration restrictions enacted by agenda-driven politicians and the passive attitudes of many of our peers won’t be solved overnight, but continued steps in the right direction are paramount if we ever hope to reach our goals.
The ball is rolling between positive Court decisions and people like Chance promoting an environment where each individual should express themselves to the fullest extent of their ability.
And while some have been silenced by unfair laws and requirements, it makes it that much more important for those of us with an opportunity to be heard to take full advantage.
“Chance the Rapper is an artist whose music praises and lifts up our common humanity, and whose call for action speaks to the yearning of this moment.”
“This year, more than it has in a generation, we must use the power of our voices and our votes and exercise our sacred right to vote.” – Cornell William Brooks, President and CEO of the NAACP
Don’t allow a moment to make a difference pass you by, your singular voice may seem insignificant to you, but each voice makes up the shout that demands attention.