Editor's Note: This is the third article in Lisa Sharon Harper’s election season blog series, Watch the Vote. You can read the last article here.
With 28 days to go until our nation chooses its 45th president, a string of court victories have knocked down Jim-Crow-style barriers to voting that have been erected in states across the nation. But 13 states are still under the oppressive weight of laws designed to suppress the vote.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, starting in early 2011, 41 states introduced legislation to restrict voting laws. Nineteen quietly passed 25 laws and two executive actions, some of which require government-issued photo IDs, proof of citizenship, fewer early-voting days, the elimination of Election Day voter registration, created barriers to voter registration drives, and created more obstacles for citizens with past criminal convictions.
The good news is that over the past few months we have seen one court case after another block the enactment of the worst provisions of these new Jim Crow laws. According to a recent Brennan Center study, 10 courts have blocked or blunted restrictive voting laws — and the Department of Justice blocked one more — since Oct. 3.
Most notably, the Florida legislature tried to stifle the voter registration process with restrictions that made it nearly impossible for voter registration groups to fulfill their mission without incurring prohibitive fines. Federal Judge Robert L. Hinkle issued an order to permanently remove the restrictions in late August.
In June, Pennsylvania’s House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), said the state law that required voters to present government-issued photo ID to prove eligibility to vote, would “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” On October 2 the courts blocked the law, known as Act 18. Voters in the Keystone State can now vote without Photo ID.
In July, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted, directed early voting to stop in Democratic counties. After public outcry he instituted more equitable voter suppression: every county lost its early voting hours. Doug Preisse, an Ohio Elections board member, admitted in an email to the Columbus Dispatch: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban — read African-American — voter-turnout machine.” The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in on October 5, upholding a previous court decision that ruled against the limitation of early voting days.
These are great victories, but we must not forget there are still 13 states with restrictive laws in effect for 2012. Those states include: Texas, Kansas, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. If you or someone you care about lives in one of these states, please click here for The Brennan Center’s full rundown on the status of voter suppression laws and voting requirements in your state.
Personally, I feel this fight in my bones. I have voted in every single major election since 1988. Every single time I walk up to the polling center, stand in line, and cast my vote, I fight back tears of gratefulness for those who came before me:
So many of my African-American ancestors fought, marched, and died so that I could vote.
So many women and men bled to break out of the cages that suppressed my gender’s thoughts, wills, and dignity. They bled so that I could vote.
And so many followers of Jesus anted up to expand our democracy, motivated by God’s call for all humanity to exercise dominion—to make choices that impact our world. These Christians understood that a suppressed vote in a democracy suppresses the exercise of dominion in our land. And that suppresses the image of God among us. And that is an abomination.
Please join me in prayer for our nation and the 13 states still bearing the burden of voter suppression over the next 28 days:
Dear Jesus, we pray for the people who live and work and raise their families within the 13 states still suffering under the weight of voter suppression. We pray that you would move in every mother, father, and child. Give them hope. Help them to exercise their agency now. Connect them with groups like Pico, the Urban League, and local churches across the nation that organizing communities to help the image of God flourish in communities across the nation in November.
And dear Jesus, we pray for our nation, for our legislators, for our courts. Please use the courts and every just means to lift our 21st century Jim Crow laws. And teach us to love our neighbors, not to muzzle their minds and silence their voices.
And finally, Holy God, protect our hearts in these final days of the most contentious election season in recent memory. Let us not fall into sin even as we pursue justice. Rather, teach us to love our political neighbor, Lord. Teach us to see them as you see them. Give us eyes to see their humanity: They, too, are made of flesh, made of spirit, and made in your image.
Lisa Sharon Harper is the Director of Mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author ofLeft, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politicsand author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat
Voting illustration, gst / Shutterstock.com