By Zenitha Prince
Special to NNPA Newspapers
It’s as if time has stood still— decades after civil rights leaders and lawmakers secured the right to vote freely, African Americans are fighting the same old battles at the polls, according to the latest edition of a major annual report.
Voting rights remain the biggest issue facing Black America today, according to the National Urban League’s “The State of Black America 2012: Occupy the Vote to Educate, Employ and Empower” report.
“More than the economy, more than jobs, more than an excellent education for all children, the single issue that arguably stands to have the greatest impact on the future of Black America in 2012 is the vote,” National Urban League president and CEO Marc Morial wrote in his introduction.
Several states over the last few years have claimed incidents of voter fraud and use them to attempt to impose restrictions on voting. In 2012 alone, according to the report, 34 states attempted to pass legislation that would require a government-issued photo ID, shorten voting hours, curtail early voting, and/or impose penalties limiting the registration process. So far, laws were passed in 14 states with 26 still pending.
“The voting rights of colored people are under attack,” the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president of the Hip Hop Caucus, said in his essay. “The outcry today is lackluster, however, because people don’t even know it’s happening.”
The impediments to voting may be a factor in the outcome of the report’s central feature, the Equality Index of Black America, which stands at 71.5 percent compared to last year’s 71.4 percent. The index measures Black attainment compared to Whites across five major categories.
The area of least parity was economics (56.3 percent), followed by social justice (56.8 percent), health (76.5 percent), education (79.7 percent) and civic engagement (98.3 percent).
Civic engagement is usually an area where Black equality exceeds that of White America, but the number fell below 100 percent this year because of a trend toward low voter registration and voting in non-presidential elections. Social justice parity also decreased because of rise in the number of Black drivers who were stopped by police compared to Whites. And economic parity continued its downward decline, driven by a worsening of the poverty rate, homeownership, educational attainment, and school enrollment.
“It’s no coincidence that a nationwide rollback in voting rights for America’s most vulnerable citizens is happening just as elected officials mount unprecedented campaign to slash investments in education and economic development. [But] keeping the nation on a path to economic recovery and equality requires the full participation of every citizen,” Morial said.
“If we are to address the challenges facing those served by the National Urban League, we must start with the vote,” he added. “We must fight voter suppression, we must educate citizens so that new laws won’t catch them unaware on Election Day, and we must empower them to get to the polls.”