by Marcus Coleman, Ph.D.
During Black History Month, the United States celebrates the life and history of African Americans. In the midst of those celebrations, we commonly learn about African-American leaders who set forth to bravely face the perils of oppression, but we also honor those who set an example of perseverance and resilience in our own lives.
Yet, while we celebrate the social, economic, and political ascendance of African Americans, our fate, as a political voting bloc, is being legally truncated. To illustrate, recently Virginia passed a strict photo voter ID law, further reigning in long-suffered voting rights.
In 2000 and 2004, Republican President Bush won Virginia’s Electoral College votes, but in 2008 and 2012 Democratic President Barack Obama won Virginia’s Electoral College votes. Simultaneously, Republicans have a stronghold on the Virginia House of Representatives and Senate. With that said, minority voter growth in Northern Virginia exceeds 20% since 2000, which has created pockets of reliable Democratic leaning voters in large metropolitan areas of Virginia, e.g. Fairfax, Loudon, Arlington, Alexandria, and Prince William.
Regarding voter turnout, research shows that voter ID laws may marginally depress African-American voter turnout, but it must also be said that growth in African-American voter turnout during Presidential elections in Virginia persists. However, African-American voter turnouts for midterm elections in Virginia lack energy. Thus, a strict photo voter ID law in Virginia may allow the state’s Republican lawmakers to maintain their governing majority in the Virginia House of Delegates, but it will do little to reroute the trajectory of Virginia’s Electoral College as a swing state that leans Democratic.
The passage of voter ID laws symbolizes an effort to disenfranchise those who do not possess a photo ID. A simplistic argument merely argues that those without a photo ID are irresponsible, but a more nuanced understanding of civic responsibility recognizes that the possession of a photo ID should not be the measure of citizenship. Instead, a patriotic critique of the United States via civic engagement has always been at the heart of American citizenship. That citizenship is what motivates African American communities to work toward political, social, and racial parity.
Nationally, approximately 35% of eligible voters do not to participate in our representative democracy. Locating those who are most at risk for being systematically excluded from voting will increase voter participation. So, as we close another Black History Month, let us not forget those who toiled for recognition, respect, and enfranchisement. Thus, African Americans must continue to display their strength as voters in national elections, but also in local and state elections.