I understand that the NAACP opposes voter-ID laws. Given the long history of fighting against uses of state law to deny blacks and other minorities the franchise until the Civil Rights Movement prevailed, their deep skepticism over proposed stricter enforcement of eligibility laws can’t help but recall echoes of voter suppression in their communities, even if the new laws are innocent of any racial animus. We still have plenty of mistrust that will take generations to undo, especially given that we still have those with living memories of having been denied the right to vote.
Still, if the NAACP wants to make the argument against such laws, shouldn’t they do it in a forum that has some jurisdiction over them?
The largest civil rights group in America, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), is petitioning the UN over what it sees as a concerted efforted to disenfranchise black and Latino voters ahead of next year’s presidential election.
The organisation will this week present evidence to the UN high commissioner on human rights of what it contends is a conscious attempt to “block the vote” on the part of state legislatures across the US. Next March the NAACP will send a delegation of legal experts to Geneva to enlist the support of the UN human rights council.
The NAACP contends that the America in the throes of a consciously conceived and orchestrated move to strip black and other ethnic minority groups of the right to vote. William Barber, a member of the association’s national board, said it was the “most vicious, co-ordinated and sinister attack to narrow participation in our democracy since the early 20th century”.
In its report, Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America, the NAACP explores the voter supression measures taking place particularly in southern and western states.
Fourteen states have passed a total of 25 measures that will unfairly restrict the right to vote, among black and Hispanic voters in particular.
None of this is particularly new. It’s the same argument that the NAACP and other civil-rights groups make against voter-ID laws, and have for years. Wisconsin just passed one such law (and it’s neither southern or western, either), and Minnesota would have passed one by now had we elected a Republican governor in 2010. States have begun adopting these laws because of increasing instances of vote fraud, either in registration or in actual voting. Minnesota leads the nation in prosecutions at the moment for these violations, which erode the value of legitimate voting.
Why take this to the UN, though? The UN has no authority to tell states within the US to pass or not pass laws. They don’t have the authority to tell the federal government in Washington to do so, either. They might be able to gin up some public-relations momentum in an attempt to embarrass the states, but it’s only going to impress those people who already buy into the concept that the UN has any moral authority at all — especially its Human Rights Council (with whom the High Commissioner works), which spends most of its time and effort attacking Israel.
The NAACP should spend its time engaging with people who are legitimately concerned about voter fraud and the protection of the value of the franchise to all eligible citizens of the states. One concern mentioned in this petition is the difficulty in getting state-issued ID because of Jim Crow policies decades ago that kept blacks and other minorities from getting birth certificates. If this is still a widespread problem, then solve it as part of the necessary reform to secure the vote. They also complain that states don’t allow felons who have completed their sentences to vote; that’s another issue that can only be solved by local and state action, and not in Geneva, Switzerland.
Instead of complaining to people who have nothing to say about the law of a self-governing people, the NAACP would be better advised to start engaging with their neighbors to find ways to achieve a better result for all of the legitimate voters in their communities, and to protect the value of the votes they want to cast. A UN petition only makes it look as though they’re interested in grandstanding rather than reaching solutions, and hints that they’d be happier with the imposition of foreign diktats rather than self-governance. That’s no way to win this argument.