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Panelists Decry GOP Voter Suppression Efforts

9/25/2012, 9:14 p.m.

Encourage High Voter Turnout to Offset Challenge

A panel discussion on voter suppression, sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus [CBC], produced more than 90 minutes of pointed conversation, fireworks, verbal sparring - all a microcosm of the contentious nature of the issue playing out on the national stage.

The Rev. Al Sharpton and conservative commentator Crystal Wright wrangled most frequently during the town hall at the 42nd Annual Legislative Conference, each sparring, jostling to make their point, battling for verbal supremacy, dismissing the other's comments.

Beneath the lively exchanges at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Northwest, is the very real situation that voting rights is under siege by Republican-led state houses which have proposed or instituted onerous voting laws panelists argued are adversely affecting constituencies who will most likely vote for President Barack Obama and Democrats.

"There are 181 restrictive voter ID laws that have been introduced all over the country," said Donna Brazile, veteran political strategist, academic and vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee. "Seventeen have passed and the impact is that 218 electoral votes are at stake. My mother told me that when you change the rules in the middle of the game, that's cheating!"

Brazile and others contend that the laws that are now present or being considered in 41 states are designed to disenfranchise minorities, the elderly, the poor, students, and disabled voters who are often less likely to have the types of IDs the GOP is demanding. At the same time, supporters insist the laws are necessary to maintain the integrity of the election process and prevent fraud.

Starting last year, panelists said, Republicans have been focused on turning the Nov. 6 election in their favor. In Texas, for example, prospective voters can register to vote with a gun or a hunting license but a student ID has been deemed insufficient by election officials.

Around the country, several panelists said, the GOP has done away with early and weekend voting; mandated that voters secure new IDs before they are allowed to vote; purged voter rolls in states like Florida, with most of those removed attached to the Democratic party; and Brazile said Republicans are intent on making it as difficult as possible for those seeking to exercise their right to vote, but she said regardless of the obstacles people face, they must not be deterred.

"This fall, we'll see barriers we have not seen since 1965," she told a standing-room-only audience of more than 2,000 participants. "Martin Luther King, Jr., gave us the ballot but we're going to have a hard time getting the ballot to people seeking to vote."

Moderator Marc Lamont Hill, Ph.D., echoed the sentiment of most of the panelists during opening comments.

"This is a 21st century form of racial discrimination," he intoned. "This is not anything to be objective about. This is a clear case of discrimination. Republicans don't want to win by genius, they want to win ... by the marginalization of poor, brown, black people. Obama galvanized a whole new generation of people. Now they [Republicans] have convinced us that for the sake of voter fraud, they have to restrict us."