GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – An NAACP delegation addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council today concerning what the panel called “disenfranchisement” of U.S. citizens. One delegate told the HRC that the right to vote was a cornerstone of democracy and that in the U.S. a patchwork of divergent laws and procedures have continued to impose barriers to voting.
The NAACP urged the U.N.’s “special rapporteur” on racism to investigate “racially discriminatory election laws,” and said the HRC should also make recommendations that could restore the political and voting rights of all citizens.
Lorraine Miller, who chairs the NAACP national board’s advocacy and policy committee, said: “Today, nearly 5.3 million U.S. citizens have been stripped of their voting rights on a temporary or permanent basis, including more than 4.4 million citizens who are no longer incarcerated … more than two million are African American, yet African Americans make up less than 13 percent of the U.S. population.”
Miller praised Attorney-General Eric Holder for his efforts to prevent the implementation of recent challenges to voting rights. “However,” she added, “we remain deeply concerned with the continued practice and discriminatory impact of felony disenfranchisement.”
One member of the delegation, a woman named Kemba Smith Pradia, who was convicted of a drug-related offense in 1992, but granted clemency by President Clinton, is now barred from voting in Virginia under legislation prohibiting those formerly incarcerated to vote in the state. “Nationally, I represent more than five million citizens that are disenfranchised from being a part of the political process simply because of past felony convictions,” she said.
Last March, NAACP president Benjamin Todd Jealous addressed the council on voter ID and other laws, which he said would disproportionately block members of minority groups from voting. “These voter-suppression laws include so-called strict voter-ID laws, cutting of Sunday voting, early voting and same-day voter registration, and the reimposing of notoriously racist bans on formerly-incarcerated people voting,” he said.
Ironically, among those U.N. HRC officials listening to that appeal were delegates from countries whose citizens have no right to vote freely, including one-party states Cuba and China; and Saudi Arabia, where men can only vote in municipal elections and women have been barred from even that limited right.
A Rasmussen poll conducted last December showed that 70 percent of likely voters agreed that voters should be required to show photo ID before casting ballots. Only 22 percent of respondents opposed such a requirement. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said such laws were not discriminatory, while 22 percent said they were.