The War on Voters’ Rights Can be Fought Online

by Tiffany Bain on April 27, 2012

Earlier this year, National Urban League President Marc Morial declared, “In 2012, the right to vote is under attack.” And last month craigconnects, craigslist founder Craig Newmark’s online initiative that features nonprofits using technology for social good, published an infographic to illustrate how more than five million eligible voters’ rights are under fire.

The infographic released in late-March, which reiterated Morial’s claim, detailed how laws and pending legislation across the country could contribute to low voter turnout and even fewer new registered voters during the 2012 Election Cycle. Laws that require a photo-ID to register and vote and pose restrictions on voter registration drives – which are projected to do more harm than good – would make the jobs of organizations on the front lines of mobilizing and registering new voters extremely difficult.

Additionally, these voter blockade tactics could have adverse long-term effects when it comes to seeking long-term improvements for media and telecommunications social justice issues affecting minority, low-income, and underserved U.S. citizens.

What’s at stake?

Not only is there a fight for the highest executive office in the land, but there are also more than 400 battles for seats in the federal legislative branch, as reported by the Center for Responsive Politics. These congressional seats are equally vital to advancing minority and women media ownership, increasing Equal Employment Opportunity enforcement, and bridging the digital divide for a number of reasons.

The majority of the aforementioned tasks fall under the responsibility of the Federal Communications Commission, but members of the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee as well as the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet each have jurisdictions over telecommunications matters. The U.S. Senate also plays a major role in confirming whom the president appoints to the FCC.

If voters, particularly those who will be caught in the firestorm of looming voter suppression laws, do not have a fair opportunity in electing who they want to represent them on a local, state, and federal level in November, it is highly likely that the alleviation of social justice issues adversely affecting disadvantaged populations could be postponed or halted.

What can be done?

Although the recent voter suppression laws set off a powder keg of disapproval from individuals and organizations that work tirelessly in protecting the rights of voters, perhaps individuals and organizations can use broadband-based social media as a tool to marshal support at the polls this fall.

For the past several years, Web sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as blogs and e-mail, have been effective in marshaling support and educating its users and visitors on various causes and issues. Using social media to share links of registration and voting requirements by state may be an effective strategy in educating voters.

According to Newman’s infographic, Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, young adults age 18-29 lacking driver’s licenses, and people over the age of 65 were more likely to be affected by voter suppression laws. However, these potential disenfranchised groups may have direct or indirect access to broadband to help them get educated on how to vote amid the many suppression proposals.

In 2010, a Pew Internet and American Life Project study suggested that nearly 90 percent of people over the age of 65 read email and more than half exchange emails on a typical day. Additionally, another Pew study indicated that 68 percent of African Americans, 72 percent of Hispanics, and 65 percent of Asian Americans use social media, compared to 64 percent of whites. The report also found that 86 percent of 18-29 year olds engage in social media.

With this in mind, online pioneers like Craig Newmark and activists like Marc Morial can create visuals and online campaigns to demonstrate how voter suppression laws will impact potentials voters.  Other individuals and civic organizations can also use technology, particularly broadband, to garner support at the polls.

  • Tiffany K. Bain is a 2011 public relations graduate of Florida A&M University. She currently serves as the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council’s Research Associate. She got her start in the industry in 2007 as an Emma L. Bowen Foundation intern at the nation’s leading cable provider.

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  • Fight!

    Right on!

    It’s sad how we get a black president and suddenly they attempt to implement all these laws to make sure certain people don’t vote. We all need to do our part to fight these racist laws, get people registered and get them to vote!

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