Unfinished Business

Voting: The Foundation of All Civil and Human Rights

The path to Election Day this Tuesday has been a long, hard, struggle for the civil and human rights community. Why?  Because there has been a shameful campaign under way across the country to make it harder for millions of Americans to register and vote. Less than 48 hours before Election Day, some state officials are still bending and breaking the rules in order to discourage voting and limit the number of votes counted. Why is this happening?

America is changing. Our nation is becoming more diverse in many ways.  According to the U.S. Census, people of color accounted for 92 percent of the U.S. population growth between 2000 and 2010.  American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters are the nation’s fastest growing racial group and are expected to vote in record numbers this fall. There are 22 percent more Latinos eligible to vote in 2012 than there were in 2008. There will be about 16 million more potential young voters in 2012 than there were four years ago.

For years, activists have worked to encourage people of color and new Americans to participate fully as citizens and voters.  In 2008, record numbers of young people, African Americans, and Latinos joined their fellow citizens to engage in the most basic right and responsibility of citizenship.  The 2008 election represented the most diverse electorate ever – a high point of American democracy and a milestone on the path toward the goal of a truly universal franchise, in which every voting-age American citizen has the right, opportunity, and ability to vote freely and fairly.

Some politicians and interests apparently didn’t like how the 2008 elections turned out.  They went to work passing new restrictions on the ability to register and vote, including unreasonable new voter ID laws, limits on voter registration and early voting, illegal purges of voter lists, and more. Most of these efforts negatively affected groups of Americans that have traditionally been underrepresented at the ballot box: African Americans, Latinos, and young voters. Intimidating billboards and deceptive robocalls also target minority communities.

The civil and human rights movement has responded to this relentless attack on voting with a heroic effort that included legal challenges, political organizing, and the spotlight of public attention. The good news is that many of the worst anti-voting laws have been either overturned or blocked for the 2012 election cycle. The U.S. Department of Justice is sending voting rights monitors to 23 states. The Leadership Conference Education Fund’s Every Voter Counts project has worked with partner organizations to resist anti-voting efforts and will be working up to and through Election Day to encourage voter participation, including participation in Video the Vote’s anti-intimidation efforts in Ohio, Colorado, and Wisconsin.

Watch: Every Voter Counts to learn more about how civil rights advocates have been fighting to protect the vote for all Americans.

Last updated: November 5, 2012