Today, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee as part of its hearing, “Jim Crow 2021: The Assault on Voting Rights.”
In her written testimony, Ifill detailed the ongoing assault on the nation’s voting rights, which is disproportionately targeted at voters of color; the state of voting rights today; COVID-19, race, and voting in 2020; voter intimidation during early voting and on Election Day 2020; and voter suppression efforts on Election Day 2020 and since – including the wave of bills in Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, Florida, and Arkansas that would make it significantly more difficult for Black voters and other voters of color to cast their ballots. She also called on Congress to fully restore the Voting Rights Act.
“The 2020 election did not, as numerous news reports suggested, ‘go smoothly,’” wrote Ifill. “Voters overcame a litany of barriers and obstacles with determination and resilience. The Herculean efforts of civil rights groups, grassroots activists, and civic groups proved critical to ensuring access to the polls for millions of voters. Again, this model is not sustainable. It is unworthy of our democracy. It flies in the face of the spirit and letter of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, and the sacrifices of the Civil Rights Movement that resulted in our most cherished civil rights statutes. Today, we find ourselves under siege from unprecedented and ingenious methods of voter suppression. 2020 was an unprecedented year in many respects. The COVID-19 pandemic tested our national spirit, our collective wellness, our economy, and our democracy. Unfortunately, some states used the circumstances of the pandemic as an opportunity to disenfranchise voters. Across the country, jurisdictions and states made it more difficult—not easier—for people to vote during a life-threatening pandemic.”
Voter intimidation was also prevalent in the last election cycle. Ifill continued: “In late August, voters in the Detroit area were targeted by robocalls claiming that voters’ personal information would be shared with law enforcement, creditors, and other databases if they voted by mail. The calls were specifically targeted to areas with high populations of Black residents … On October 31, the last day of early voting in North Carolina, voters peacefully marched from a local church to Court Square, a block from their polling location. On at least two separate occasions, law enforcement deployed pepper spray into the gathering of marchers which included young children, elderly individuals, and those with disabilities, with no warning or justification … Across the country, voters looking to exercise their fundamental rights were confronted by armed observers at polls. In Pinellas County, Florida, two people, armed and wearing security uniforms, were suspected of voter intimidation. The individuals first claimed to work for a private security company, but later stated they were hired by the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign denied this assertion. Nevertheless, the presence of two armed security officials seemingly associated with the Trump campaign had a suppressive and intimidating effect on voters.”
Despite intensive voter suppression and intimidation, there was record turnout and voter engagement in Black communities during the 2020 election season. In response to this exercising of Black political power, state lawmakers have unleashed a wave of restrictive voting laws to suppress voters of color. According to the Brennan Center, as of March 24, state legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states. However, this assault on voting rights is not simply a byproduct of 2020. Ifill continued: “The threats to the right to vote expose cracks and rot in the foundation of our democracy that are not the result of one single Supreme Court case, an unprecedented global pandemic or even the policy choices of a presidential administration. This series of events provided a perfect storm for the disenfranchisement that we see laid bare today. But threats to voting rights and the desire to deny the right to vote to certain subsets of the American people has been with this country since the passage of the civil rights amendments. They are part of a project to dismantle the power and protections at the heart of the Voting Rights Act.
“Whether it is through the introduction of voter suppression bills in state houses, intimidation at the ballot box, or misinformation circulated on social media, these attacks threaten the very integrity of our democracy. We witnessed, and many enabled, the most dangerous assault on American democracy in more than a century. The violent storming of the Capitol was only its most visible and ugly climax. The future of our country unequivocally depends on our ability to reform our voting and elections system. We shall be a democracy in name only if we continue to allow voter suppression and discrimination.”
Read the full written testimony here.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization. LDF has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.