Listen carefully to this year's presidential candidates, and you'll hear a redundant thread: They want as many black votes as possible.
That's because, say analysts, the black voting bloc holds tremendous sway in who becomes president. And the previous elections prove it. Barack Obama captured 95 percent of the African American vote in his campaign. George W. Bush was reelected in 2004 in part because he was able to increase his percentage of black votes in key election states.
Plus, most African Americans usually identify with the Democratic Party's ideals: a strong government that isn't afraid to take chances and, at the same time, shows respect for community or cultural identification.
But while presidential candidates may be willing to battle it out for the percentage of black votes, unencumbered access to casting that vote is still in question, says the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). In fact, more than a dozen states have instituted laws or practices that disenfranchise communities of color when it comes to voting in elections.
The report, Democracy Diminished: State and Local Threats to Voting Post-Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, came out on June 9. It takes a deep look at what has taken place since the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that Section 5 of the federal Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. And what researchers found, says the NAACP, shows a worrisome trend when it comes to state and local ability -- and in some case willingness -- to protect the rights of people of color when it comes to state, local and federal elections.
A bit of background: The federal Voting Rights Act was created in 1965 at the height of the civil rights movement. Its heart and soul were Section 4 and Section 5, which imposed requirements on nine states and a handful of localities with a history of black voter discrimination. Most of the states were located in the south, where civil rights of minorities were still being forged into law. But by instituting those two sections and the understanding that a state or locality was responsible for protecting the rights of all voters (and could be subject to federal action if they didn't), Congress effectively provided a deterrent to discriminatory laws and redistricting practices in other states as well.
"For a half century a concerted effort has been made to end racial discrimination in voting. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, once the subject of dream has been made and continues to be achieved," Justice Ginsberg wrote in 2013.
With the NAACP's latest report, however, even that fact may be in question. The organization vowed to continue monitoring state voting laws and practices, laying ground for what may well turn out to be further proof that federal oversight is critical to protecting our basic democratic values. And as is always the case, those values have a way of deciding the outcome at this year's presidential elections.
Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.