Five Black Baptist conventions, representing 10 million people, have joined the NAACP in its efforts to mobilize African-American voters for the November 6 presidential election.
“We are simply saying to our people: Vote,” said Rev. Julius R. Scruggs, president of the National Baptist Convention. “Get out and vote.”
NAACP and Baptist officials announced the joint effort Wednesday morning from Atlanta, Ga., where the National Baptist Convention was holding its annual meeting. The initiative is part of a national campaign to get Black voters to the polls at a time when states across the nation are enacting voter ID laws that critics charge will disenfranchise African Americans, the young, the elderly, the poor and other minorities.
Scruggs stressed the fact that church officials were not advocating for either President Barack Obama or his Republican rival Mitt Romney.
“We are non-partisan,” he said.
Instead, using the fiery rhetoric of the church, convention leaders called voter ID laws “diabolical” and reminded their congregations of the historic struggles of African Americans who fought and died for their right to vote.
“It’s too important to let anyone steal it,” said Rev. Nelson Rivers III, vice president of stakeholder relations with the NAACP. “Voter suppression leads to voter oppression.”
Pennsylvania enacted a voter ID law in March. It was one of a number of states with new voting laws. The Pennsylvania law is being challenged in court and the U.S Justice department is investigating it as well.
Estimates of how many people might be disenfranchised by the Pennsylvania law vary widely — official state estimates suggest that about 186,000 registered voters lack a proper ID. Projections by a local consultant put the number closer to 280,000. Tribune estimates suggest that in Philadelphia, approximately 39 percent of active African Americans — more than 152,000 people — lack state-required photo identification needed to cast their ballot on Election Day. That figure compares to about 82,000 — or about 20 percent — of active white voters who lack proper identification. Among Latinos, about 37,000 people faced the possibility of being denied the right to vote because they lacked ID.
In 2011, new voter ID laws passed in Kansas, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Wisconsin, while Alabama and Tennessee tightened existing voter ID laws to require photo ID. Governors in Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina vetoed such laws.
In Wisconsin, a county judge ruled in July that the state’s new photo ID law impairs the right to vote. In an appeal, Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen argues the law doesn’t impose an undue burden because voters can get free state ID cards.
Supporters say identification prevents voter fraud.
But, some point to a remark by Pennsylvania state house leader Mike Turzai, who said the law will “allow” Mitt Romney to win the state in November as proof of malicious intent behind the laws in states controlled by Republicans.
“(The) Voter ID … is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania,” Turzai told a group of Republicans in late June.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.