NAACP vows to fight vote suppression

WASHINGTON — As 3,000 NAACP convention-goers applauded, Julian Bond, the chair of the nation’s largest civil rights group, accused the Republican ultra-right of scheming to block or suppress Black and other minority votes in this year’s midterm election.

“This is a war, friends, and we are on the front lines,” Bond told delegates in his July 16 keynote. “Their weapons this year are discouraging and criminalizing registration drives, purging eligible voters and imposing unreasonable identification requirements.” Bond charged that African Americans are specifically denied the right to vote under the cover of “anti-fraud measures.”

The theme of this year’s convention, held at the District of Columbia Convention Center, was “Voting Our Values, Valuing Our Votes.”

A veteran civil rights and antiwar leader who served in the Georgia Legislature, Bond galvanized the crowd with his scathing indictment of Bush and the Republican ultra-right. He demanded that the Senate quit stalling and approve the House-passed bill extending the Voting Right Act without weakening amendments. The convention recessed July 19 to rally on Capitol Hill to demand that the Senate approve the extension now.

Justice Department lawyer Hans von Spakovsky played a key role in giving “pre-clearance” to Georgia’s law requiring every voter to have a state-issued photo ID card, Bond charged. A federal court has overturned the law. Spakovsky “was the impetus behind the notorious 2000 purge of Florida voters, many of them Black,” Bond said. Bush rewarded him by assigning him to the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Section and has now named him to the Federal Election Commission.

“So the campaign to suppress the minority vote continues in places high and low, federal and state,” Bond said. “As we approach this year’s midterm elections, these efforts are again rampant. If they are afraid of our votes, those votes must be really valuable to someone. We vow to protect this precious power.”

Bond cited the state of Florida for a law enacted in January making it virtually impossible for nonprofit organizations to conduct voter registration. The law also imposes onerous fines if registration forms are turned in late for any reason, even hurricanes.

In Ohio, Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, “the Clarence Thomas of state elected officials,” who is now running for governor, imposed new rules “making some legitimate voter registration activities punishable as crimes,” Bond charged.

A GOP purge in 2004 targeted Black servicemen and servicewomen overseas, “identifying them as registering to vote from false addresses when letters sent to their home addresses intentionally marked ‘do not forward’ were then returned as ‘undeliverable,’” Bond said. “They even make war on our soldiers’ rights. Iraqi citizens living in the United States could vote in their elections. Some Americans fighting in Iraq could not vote in theirs.”

Bond told the crowd that he personally invited President George W. Bush to attend this year’s convention. Bush was expected to make an appearance. But Bond minced no words. “They know all about cut and run,” he quipped. “Cut taxes for the rich and run the country into the ground. They have continued an assault on our civil liberties and civil rights, orchestrated a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom to the top, and increased poverty every year they have been in office.”

Bond added, “We had wondered, if the president has the inherent authority … to eavesdrop, to kidnap and torture, to detain indefinitely, what is it he cannot do?”

Republican lawmakers, including several who pose as “moderates” like former Rep. Robert Ehrlich of Maryland and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, previously forwarded complaints from constituents asking the Internal Revenue Service to investigate (and possibly terminate) the NAACP’s tax-exempt status. Similar calls followed Bond’s 2004 NAACP convention speech criticizing Bush’s policies.

The IRS responded with an audit of the civil rights group. Bond said the NAACP will continue to fight this crude intimidation.

Bond’s speech resonated with delegates. “Our primary concern is making people, especially African American people, aware of how important it is to vote in this year’s election,” said Helen Forbes, a member of the Camden County, N.C., branch of the NAACP. “We need to remove from office those who are not working in our interests.

“These elected officials know about our needs — education, affordable housing, health care,” she said. “But they have done nothing. They seem more interested in the needs of contractors in Iraq. When they need some money they get it by the barrelful, without any accountability. We can use that money right here at home to provide for the people’s needs.”

Lee V. Charlton, president of the New Bedford, Mass., branch, told the World, “I take exception to the Bush administration trying to export something we don’t have at home, the right to vote. All over the country, the conservatives are challenging our right to vote, like in Georgia with their photo ID. I think that has a chilling effect on voters who remember the past when sharecroppers could lose their farms if they tried to vote. In Winston-Salem, N.C., Black people were killed for registering to vote, their bodies dragged through the streets.”

Bernard James, president of the Cecil County, Md., branch, emphasized voter turnout. “The main thing is for the Democrats to regain control of the House and Senate. We get a better response from the Democrats than the Republicans,” he said.