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No Photo ID = No Democracy

In the 2008 Presidential election the black youth (age 18-24) voter turnout rate was 55%; an 8% increase from the 2004 Presidential elections and the highest increase among any demographic. While these numbers are heartening, the political voices of young black people across the United States are being imminently threatened. The new photo-identification laws passed in the state legislatures of Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin will without a doubt significantly reduce the voter turn-out rate for young African-Americans in the 2012 Presidential election as well as dilute their overall voice. Although we are allegedly living in a “post-racial” society, the institutionalized political marginalization of communities of color continues to persist unabated. Although overt racism may not be as conspicuous as it was when Lyndon Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act which aimed to finally protect the unfulfilled promises of the 15th amendment of the U.S. Constitution which states, “ The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”; the statement still rings hallow. What’s even more concerning, is that with the lack of substantive policies coming from the right as real alternatives to President Obama’s initiatives, it seems that the fuss about photo-identification is mere a ploy to demobilize a crucial voting bloc to win back the keys to the Oval Office.

As Dr. Cathy Cohen and Jon Rogowski note in their Letter to the Editor of New York Times; an estimated 25% of African-American adults don’t possess state-issued photo-identification, in comparison to only 9% of white adults. In particular, their data shows that when taking into account the total number of African-American adults who voted in the 2008 U.S. Presidential election in just Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin 850,000 people could be demobilized. A little less than 1 million African-Americans could be silenced in 2012. This is not just problematic in the race for the White House, but also more local elections. For instance, in Wisconsin most black people are concentrated in the Greater-Milwaukee area, which is represented by U.S. Representative Gwen Moore. If the photo-identification law isn’t reversed in Wisconsin the majority of black folks in the “Badger State” will be politically quiescent in 2012.

As a recent college graduate and newly minted “indebted” American, I am particularly concerned with this blatantly discriminatory policy as it will affect me and many of my peers. There were 2.5 million black college students in the fall of 2008. This was roughly double the corresponding number from 25 years earlier. Although many college students may have state issued photo identification cards, it may present a problem to students who most recently lived in a state other than their college/university. College students are transient populations. As in a New York Times editorial, “William O’Brien, the speaker of the New Hampshire State House, told a Tea Party group earlier this year that students are “foolish” and tend to “vote their feelings” because they lack life experience. “Voting as a liberal,” he said, “that’s what kids do.” And that’s why, he said, he supported measures to prohibit students from voting from their college addresses and to end same-day registration.” In addition, New Hampshire Republicans even tried to pass a bill that would have kept students who previously lived elsewhere from voting in the state. If this isn’t a slap in the face I don’t what is. These measure can potentially dilute the power of hundreds of thousands of black college students who represent a very important voting bloc for President Obama and the Democratic Party as a whole.

It is imperative that we don’t allow a few self-serving politicians to systematically keep us from the polls. This call to arms isn’t just directed toward black college students, it is for ALL people who care about having a true Democratic republic that is “by the people, and for the people.”  I encourage all young folks to mobilize on and off-line to stand up against these policies. Use Twitter, Facebook, the blogosphere, and your local non-profits and organizations as spaces to mobilize your community and others. No matter how hard they try to silence us, in 2012 WE WILL BE HEARD!

Please feel free to have a conversation with me about this post or any other post via Twitter @edwardelliot.