In 1947, then head of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), W.E.B. Du Bois, issued an appeal to the nascent United Nations.
Peoples of the World, we American Negroes appeal to you; our treatment in America is not merely an internal question of the United States. It is a basic problem of humanity; of democracy; of discrimination because of race and color; and as such it demands your attention and action.
Last week, sixty five years later, the NAACP went back to the UN.
They went to draw attention to voter ID laws now in place in a majority of American states, which People for the American Way have described as ‘The New Face of Jim Crow.’
The groups impacted by such laws include students and the elderly as well as African-Americans. All told, The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that five million eligible voters will be impacted.
The NAACP’s Hillary Shelton told NPR:
The right to vote is something that should not be obscured by anything. If people are eligible, we know we have a very tragic history of contrived blockages to the polling places that go way back, especially for African-Americans.
For us to be able to move, in this day and age, to put in place obstacles that would prevent 25 percent of eligible African-Americans from being able to cast that vote and exercise that franchise, it is very disturbing.
They asked the UN to come and observe and report on what they say are voter suppression efforts. Shelton said that they received a “very interested” reception.
Shelton also said that they are proactively trying to aid those without the requisite documents, such as raising money to help poor people pay for photo IDs. They are also fighting efforts in some states to shorten voting opportunities, such as early voting, and making it harder for convicted felons to be re-enfranchised — both of which disproportionately impact minorities.
Another proactive effort to fight voter suppression is the new Empowerment Movement, an effort by black churches to register one million black Christian voters this Easter Sunday.
The Justice Department is also weighing in on the new voting laws in Republican controlled states. It has halted one in Texas, as required under the Voting Rights Act, because it says that the state hasn’t produced evidence that the law won’t disproportionately impacts Hispanics.
That ID law, which included gun licenses but not university issued student IDs, was supposedly needed because of fraud. But despite loudly proclaiming, and spending $1.4 million investigating, the Texas Republican Attorney General, Greg Abbott, could find only 26 examples, most of which were technical violations. Despite producing no evidence, Abbott continues to claim fraud is a problem for which his law is the solution. Here he has found support from Fox News, who have reported his claims but not the absence of evidence of fraud nor the impact on 600,000 Texans.
Last year, the Republican National Lawyers Association (RNLA), in an attempt to discredit the NAACP, actually produced a report showing the exact opposite to the claimed need for new laws. It showed almost no fraud cases anyway, but not even all of those would have been stopped by voter ID laws.
One of the most central pieces of civil rights legislation, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, may itself be under threat by cases being deliberately brought to challenge the Act’s constitutionality.
Watch the speech by NAACP head Benjamin Jealous before the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva:
Photo from Ilmari Karonen via flickr