HBCUs Essential in Fight Against Voter Suppression
Voter suppression is afoot in America. With process changes in more than 30 states, young voters remain needed. Many of these future leaders fill, graduate from, and enroll in our nation’s HBCUs, community colleges, and majoritarian institutions.
As our institutions of higher learning train the keepers of tomorrow, they must also teach historical voter limitations and juxtapose the past with today’s constitutional hurdles.
Recent suppression steps coincide with the possible re-election of the US’s first black president, Barack Obama. Moves to convolute the voting process, and subsequently disenfranchise many of groups that would likely support Obama, are blatant.
Studies indicate that up to 11 percent of American citizens do not have the government issued identification required in some instances to vote.
Seven states decreased the time frame for early voting even though 30 percent of votes cast in the general election four years ago were cast before Election Day.
As a result of these changes, legislators are being called out. The American Civil Liberties Union said that voter suppression laws were created to remove African-Americans, the elderly, students and people with disabilities from the voting process.
Florida, battleground state and home to four HBCUs (Florida Memorial College, Edward Waters College, Bethune Cookman University, and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University) continuously makes news for sketchy political practices.
The state purged registered voters, misplaced ballots and created obstacles for voters. Some groups, including the League of Women Voters, stopped voter registration drives in response to registration hurdles.
The democratic process suffers when voters back down to these tactics. It is a move that some groups continuously work against.
The Student Engagement and Empowerment Network (SEEN) includes developing minds from 10 historically black colleges and universities in North Carolina. The group’s mission is to allow students to share ideas, communication and learn how to mobilize young voters.
These kinds of organizations are crucial to engaging young people in the political process.
For many HBCUs, this is familiar work. Fighting for the rights of marginalized groups is at the crux of historically black institutions. Created during America’s darker hours these institutions not only know what is required for societal growth, but must also persist in shaping inquisitive and engaged voting citizens.
HBCUs galvanized for the election of president Obama in 2008. And although a graduation cycle later, lackluster job prospects and a struggling economy remain on many American minds, members of the HBCU family know the connection between ballots and betterment.
Whether we readily embrace the political system or not, many HBCU allies are dissenters who understand that most things worth having don’t remain without a fight.
Regardless of political ideology and if HBCU allies are team or anti-Obama, the power of young people cannot be negated. Obama received 66 percent of the young vote in 2008.
Groups like SEEN are needed as voter suppression legislation underscores a divide between the left and right, normative culture and disenfranchised groups.
After all, how can one justify restructuring voting rules that disproportionately impact voters of color and urban communities? Doesn’t this all look mighty familiar?
Let’s hope that historical repetition reverses political apathy. The South was notorious for poll taxes and literacy tests to prevent blacks from electing leaders. Ultimately the Voting Rights Act of 1965 resulted in most African Americans in the South registering to vote.
People of diverse backgrounds decided that subjugating certain groups by refusing their civil rights was neither ideal nor beneficial. It was essentially un-American and would not be tolerated.
Even today we cannot afford to accept suppression. A vote is still a voice.