WBWPC Honors The Memory of Sojourner Truth During Women’s History Month With Multi-Organization Agenda To Quell Voter Disenfranchisement

The following article by the WBWPC Disenfranchisement Committee was published in the County Press the week of March 18, 2013

2013 has the potential for being a notorious year in which we are dealt some of the greatest blows to vital civil rights protections ever known to this country. Two crucial voting rights cases have been argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. Last month the Court heard arguments in the case of Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder. In jeopardy is the constitutionality of the essential Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), the landmark legislation outlawing racial discrimination in state voting practices, and its critical enforcement mechanism. The VRA has been one of the most important gateways for voter enfranchisement transforming the American democracy from a restricted, segregated past to one of inclusion. With the assault of anti-voter legislation in many states, it is clear that we still need the VRA and Section 5 to keep our elections free, fair and accessible. The Court also heard Arizona v. Intertribal Council and will decide whether the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) prevents states from restricting the voter registration process for an ever more mobile electorate. One of the primary purposes of the NVRA was to increase participation in federal elections by overriding burdensome state registration laws, such as Arizona’s requirement for documentary proof of citizenship. The potential impact of this case on voter registration is significant. Approval from the Supreme Court for state restrictions on voter registration would undoubtedly put that issue in front of state legislatures. Several states have already sought to restrict voter registration and are considering new laws to restrict voting rights, and surely others will try if given the green light by our nation’s highest court. The Court’s decisions will set the framework for election efforts for decades to come. Voters need to be aware of and concerned about the various implications of these court proceedings in order to demand that voting rights be protected. Each and every American deserves an equal right to vote and in every state and locality across the country, elections must be free, fair and accessible.

Historically, the United States voting system has not been implemented in a way which is equitable to women and racial minorities. Women, Native Americans and African Americans were unable to vote under the law for most of the early years of our country. Not until the 1920s were women allowed to vote in federal elections (state election laws were decided on an individual basis). Even after the civil war and the passing of the 15th Amendment, states would discriminate against African Americans through “poll taxes” or “literacy tests” as a method of keeping them from affecting society. While we could hope that our country’s days of voter disenfranchisement are long gone, recent years have seen a massive resurgence in the effort to limit voting rights. With the problems in our election system exposed once again this past November, the Court should be enforcing voting rights, not taking them away. The thought that the Voting Rights Act could be overturned by the Court should send a chill down the spine of every American.

The importance of voting in America cannot be overstated. Voter participation is paramount and vital to our society; it is the cornerstone of citizenship and our democracy. Political issues concern us all; there is no small issue in politics. The main importance of democracy is the participation and empowering of the people in naming their political representatives. We democratically elect our leaders, who in turn represent us in the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. Some of our leaders also have the power to appoint other leaders to certain offices. Our leaders make, enforce and judge laws that impact every aspect of our lives… our health, housing, education, religion, finances and freedoms. Many of these issues are also voted on directly during elections.

Our politicians tout America’s democracy as the gold standard, but we have evolved into a sham democracy if we are systemically excluded from representation by those we voted into office. There have always been those who want to limit the voting franchise in order to push an agenda or discriminate against a less powerful group, but it is important that the voting process not be corrupted by those in power, that the people are not disenfranchised, that our vote is not rendered less effective.

Recently, evidence of abuses of power abound from the power-sharing deals of the Gang of 4 (then 3) after the 2008 elections to the current renegade NYS Senate ‘Independent Democratic Conference (IDC)’ coordinating a coup, led by Senator Jeff Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester), with the Republican Senate Conference to Westchester County Legislators Virginia Perez (D-Yonkers) and Michael Kaplowitz (D-Somers) breaking ranks with the Democrats and joining the Republican minority of 7 legislators to pass the 2013 county budget with major cuts to health care, child care and housing protections. Just as the IDC prevented the Democrats from being in power in the Senate – even though the people of the State of New York, in a free and democratic election, chose otherwise, our County Legislature’s Democratic majority was divested of its cohesive capacity when Legislator Kaplowitz, a Democrat with huge Republican support, and Legislator Virginia Perez, backed by Republican money, despite her Democratic Party credentials, crossed party lines and completed a quorum whose nine votes for the budget outstripped the ten vote maximum the Democrats could have rallied. In this move neither Legislator Kaplowitz nor Legislator Perez respected the will of or represented the ideals of their party, the very basis for their successful election to office, and have now risked their re-election. As Westchester County Board of Legislators Majority Leader Peter Harckham (D-Katonah) wrote, “While much attention has been focused on the political theater of the absurd surrounding the “passage” of the so-called Republican 2013 “Budget” for Westchester County, relatively little light has been shed on what a fiscally irresponsible and painful spending plan it is for the people of Westchester. Simply put, it borrows too much, cuts too deeply and funds too much patronage. In short, this is a budget only the Tea Party could love.” The renegade Gang of 4, the NYS Senate ‘Independent Democratic Conference’ and Legislators Kaplowitz and Perez all chose to enhance their own power and importance at the cost of their constituents’ best interest by aligning themselves with opposing parties.

Gerrymandering is also another example of power grabbing and is defined as manipulating the shape of electoral districts to determine the outcome of an election. One method is to manipulate the number of people in each district so that “your” supporters end up with more districts, and your opponents end up with less. One of the most overlooked, but extremely dangerous, forms of voter disenfranchisement is that of barring convicted felons from being allowed to vote or barring their inclusion in the voter count of their home district. Many people overlook this form of disenfranchisement because it targets those with the stigma of a criminal record, but they fail to see the bigger picture. Our criminal justice system, particularly as it relates to the “war on drugs”, does not treat everybody equally, therefore some demographics are more likely to be disenfranchised due to a felony record. The state legislature, some counties and some municipalities have previously counted incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, inflating the local population counts used for legislative districts. Padding legislative districts with prison populations artificially enhances the weight of a vote cast in those districts at the expense of all districts that do not contain a prison. Thankfully, with a Democratic majority in both the Assembly and the Senate, the New York State Legislature enacted legislation in 2010 ensuring that incarcerated persons be counted as residents of their home communities when state and local legislative districts were redrawn in 2011. Up until that time communities like Bedford and Ossining included the prison population of the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility and Sing Sing Correctional Facility in their local voter counts. Counting urban prisoners, an external population, as rural residents violates the very idea of equality and fairness to preserve traditional “communities of interest”.

As Sojourner Truth was the first prominent African-American directly associated with the women’s suffrage movement and as she delivered what is recognized as one of the most famous abolitionist and women’s rights speeches in American history, ‘Ain’t I A Woman’ at the 1851 Women’s Rights Convention (Akron, Ohio), which is said to have sparked and energized the movement, the Westchester Black Women’s Political Caucus, Inc. (WBWPC) honors her memory especially during this Women’s History Month and firmly believes we citizens must do everything to stem this onslaught on our democracy. The WBWPC is a multi-partisan organization that project and pursue causes or persons supportive of socio-economics and has a long history of advocacy for those who do not have a voice. For over 35 years, the WBWPC has been vital in promoting the inclusion of minorities in all phases of the political process and has endorsed like minded candidates from all major political parties. The WBWPC also believes the value of our vote does not end on election day. As voters we have the right to demand our elected officials answer for their behavior and to hold them accountable for their decisions. Politicians are elected to serve the good of the people that they represent and are held accountable through elections. If the right to vote and the true representation of voters no longer exist, our country would no longer survive as a democratic nation, and become completely totalitarian. Our influence on government is imperative, for without it the will of the majority that governs this country disappears, only to be replaced with the will of the minority.

The WBWPC has called on all like-minded and socio-economic supportive organizations to join the ‘Agenda To Quell Voter Disenfranchisement’ and is honored and enthusiastic that Higher Heights for America, the Hudson Valley Community Coalition and the WESPAC Foundation are the first to join the agenda and will attend our next meeting and Women’s History Month Program in memory of Sojourner Truth on Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 12:30 PM hosted by our New Rochelle Chapter at the Bethesda Family Life Center, 71 Lincoln Avenue, New Rochelle, NY. This coalition will hold our elected officials accountable, track their performance and map out an agenda to affect upcoming elections and legislation for the betterment of our county and state. For more information email info@wbwpc.org or call 646-361-2594.


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