“This is not Russia. This is the United States of America. And I will fight until the death to make sure every citizen — whether they’re Green Party, whether they’re Freedom Party, whether they’re Democrat, whether they’re Republican, whoever — has that right to vote. Because it is the essence of our democracy. For so many people, their rights are pulled away from them, then they’ve got to put in laws to get them back. What does that mean? They cannot progress rapidly. They cannot progress with the rest of society. All they’re trying to do is control their own destiny.” — Rep. Elijah Cummings, chair, House Oversight Committee
The National Urban League’s 2019 State of Black America report, “Getting 2 Equal, United Not Divided,” an unprecedented examination of the state of the Black vote, was unveiled this week amidst a new push in Congress to protect voting rights and secure democracy.
Just a day after we unveiled the report at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings announced he wants to “make sure we spend significant effort and time, perhaps even looking at even more states and seeing what they’re doing and shining a light on what they may be doing illegally or improperly to stop or hinder people from voting and having those votes counted.”
Specifically, the committee is planning to examine voter suppression in North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and Kansas.
In partnership with the Brennan Center for Justice and the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the State of Black America revealed how the “Terrible Trio” of voter suppression — state legislatures, the Supreme Court and hostile foreign actors — worked together to disrupt American democracy.
Beginning in 2010 — following the first year of the first African-American president’s term — state legislatures began passing restrictive laws intended to hinder Black voters. The Supreme Court opened the floodgates for voter suppression in 2013 when it gutted the Voting Rights Act with its decision in Shelby v. Holder.
It was into this suppression-happy environment that hostile foreign actors — specifically the troll farm of Russia’s Internet Research Agency — unleashed a firestorm of manipulative, misleading and deceptive social media aimed at dissuading African Americans from voting.
Our report has landed at a crucial moment when some members of Congress are ramping up pressure to address foreign meddling and racially-motivated voter suppression.
The same day we unveiled the report, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a proposal to bar foreign citizens who have interfered in the U.S. elections from entering the United States.
Last week, Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey unveiled a bill that would fund states’ implementation of paper ballots that could be audited and to enact new cybersecurity standards to protect against hacking — a recommendation that is included in State of Black America.
Other recommendations include H.R. 1, the For the People Act which includes a wide range of voting reforms like enhanced cybersecurity protection of election systems, removing barriers to voter registration and prohibiting the distribution of false information about elections to hinder or discourage voting.
We endorse H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, which restores the full enforcement protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
We also make some bold suggestions like the elimination of the Electoral College.
Nothing is more important in the fight for economic and racial justice than protecting the right to vote. Make sure your congressional representatives know that combating voter suppression and foreign manipulation of our elections is a top priority. You can tell Congress to pass the Voting Rights Advancement Act by texting “VRA4” to the number 52886.
Morial is president of the National Urban League.