This past election day, a 50-year-old African-American voter in Mississippi, whose name has not been released, showed up to her local polling station to cast her vote in the general election. She had voted in the same county since she was 18 but was told her name was not on the rolls and that she would have to vote via a provisional ballot. As the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington approaches, civil rights activists say one of the most powerful barometers of progress for African-Americans—easy access to the ballot box—is under attack. The 2012 election cycle represented “the largest legislative effort to rollback voting rights since the post-reconstruction era,” says Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization that released a report along with Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Thursday arguing that voting changes in 2012 disproportionately affected African-American voters. The last two years have been a particularly tumultuous time for voting rights. According to the Advancement Project’s report, 180 bills they dubbed “restrictive” were introduced in 41 states between January 2011 and October 2012. Laws requiring voters to show ID at the polls—perhaps the most controversial piece of new voting legislation—were proposed in 38 states. On Thursday, the Justice Department announced that it plans to sue Texas on its new voter ID law.
Dianis said it was harder for African-Americans to “vote, cast a ballot, and have a vote counted” in 2012 than in any other recent election. According to the report, African-American voters waited in line for an average of 23 minutes to cast a ballot in the 2012 election, compared to 12 minutes for white voters and 19 minutes for Latino voters.
At Morehouse College in Atlanta, a historically black institution, 250 students said they were not able to cast regular ballots, according to the report. Some students waited in line for seven hours to get provisional ballots.
Early voting periods were cut in swing states like Florida, where huge numbers of African-American voters had cast their ballots in 2008 on the Sunday before Election Day with the help of church programs called “souls to the polls” that transported voters to polling stations.
In Ohio, ads on Clear Channel billboards were put up in predominantly African-American neighborhoods in the months before Election Day, reading “Voter fraud is a felony!” The steep fines for voter fraud—for which evidence is scant—were displayed on the billboards, which were eventually taken down.