A Black conservative group is criticizing the NAACP’s voting rights awareness campaign as “demeaning” to African Americans, and accuses the civil rights organization of “crying wolf.”
Last week, officials with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People urged all Americans to resist voter restriction measures in their states and educate themselves as to their voting rights. Restrictions – such as identification requirements, restricting voter registration, disenfranchising convicted felons and restrictions on early and absentee voting – could bar as many as 5 million people from the polls, they said.
This week, critics from Project 21, The National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives, fired back.
“I don’t understand where the NAACP is making the point that this is disenfranchising voters,” said Cherylyn LeBon Harley, a spokesperson for Project 21 and former senior counsel on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, speaking specifically on voter ID measures. “In fact, this is protecting voters. You have to show an ID to check into the Holiday Inn Express, then it makes perfect sense that you should do the same when you are exercising the most sacred constitutional right – the right to vote.”
In a blistering statement, Project 21 officials argued that the measures requiring voter ID protected Blacks’ right to vote as vigorously as they protect others.
“It seems the NAACP conveniently forgets how their position demeans Blacks,” said Shelby Emmett, another member of the group. “We fought for over a hundred years not just to vote, but to have that vote count and mean something. How does allowing illegal immigrants and dead people to vote and other forms of voter fraud secure and protect Black rights?”
NAACP officials said history disproves Project 21’s point of view.
“For them to release a statement like that, it’s reckless,” said Hilary Shelton, senior vice president for policy and advocacy for NAACP. “It means that they haven’t done their due diligence or research to see just where things are.”
Shelton noted that concerns about photo ID requirements are just one aspect of the NAACP’s discussion on voter suppression, noting that changes to early voter and Sunday voting provisions were also a cause for worry.
“In 2008, we saw an historic turnout, and that meant standing in line two and three hours to exercise the franchise,” Shelton said. “Extending that means you’re extending the life of the line. What we’re going to see is it going from two, three, four hours to four, six hours and longer.”
The NAACP estimates suggested that nearly 38 percent of the potentially disenfranchised voters are Black – nearly 2 million people. Some 13 percent of Black men are disenfranchised nationally, and in some states up to one-third of Black men are denied the right to vote. When voting restrictions on convicted felons are included, the numbers rise dramatically, with another 5 million people being disenfranchised.
Project 21’s press release didn’t include any data disproving the NAACP’s research, a fact that Shelton noted.
“It sounds like the same kind of gut response that’s created a lot of these problems across the country,” he said.
Sticking to the issue of photo IDs specifically, Harley dismissed concerns, noting that many states have offered to pay for identification cards and that many low-income people are already required to have an ID.
“If you are lower income and are on social services, you’re required to have an ID,” she said. “Despite what people may think, most people are going to have an ID.”
On Saturday, the NAACP held its “Stand for Freedom” march in New York City in an effort to raise awareness about voter restriction policies, proposed and enacted, in 38 states across the country. Organizers said 25,000 took part in the march, which also included labor unions, the National Action Network and several Democratic groups. It started at the Manhattan offices of Koch Industries and ended at the United Nations headquarters. The group also plans to lay its grievances in front of the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, and ask for a U.N. opinion.
“Millions upon millions of people are potentially affected by restrictive changes to voting laws,” said Benjamin T. Jealous, president and CEO of the NAACP, last week. “Those people are disproportionately Black, Latino, students and the poor.”
Emmett argued that the NAACP’s position belittled African Americans.
“Maybe if they viewed Blacks as capable beings, obtaining identification wouldn’t equal a ‘poll tax’ but would instead equal Blacks protecting and defending their rights as Americans to a fair and transparent process open only to real, live American citizens,” she said. “Maybe it’s the NAACP that is instituting a new barrier to voting.”