Editor’s Note: In America is producing a documentary, airing in July, which looks at whether a flurry of new state laws are designed to suppress votes, or protect against voting fraud.
By Stephanie Siek, CNN
(CNN) – The National Urban League’s 2012 State of Black America report said that African-Americans’ march toward parity with whites in things like education, health, civic engagement and social justice continues to be a hard, unfinished journey. Released the day after Super Tuesday elections, the report puts special focus on voting rights for African-Americans.
The 2012 Equality Index score put black equality at 71.5%, just 0.1% over that of last year. The report uses a percentage index score that includes hundreds of factors like unemployment rate, median household income, possession of health insurance, high school graduation rates, and proportion of registered voters to the total eligible population, among others. A score of 100% would indicate a measurement in which black people were scoring equally with white people, while a score below 100% indicates categories in which blacks are scoring less. Scores higher than 100% indicate measurements in which blacks are scoring above whites.
Scores for civic engagement dropped the most out of the four categories measured, going from 101.8% in 2011 to 98.3% this year. Civic Engagement measures not only the number of registered voters and percentage of adults who actually voted, but also how many African-Americans participate in volunteer activities, how many are part of a union, how many are employed by the government, and the percentage who sign up for military reserve service.
The league blames the lower civic engagement index score in part on voting laws which it says unfairly restrict voter rights and disproportionately impact African-Americans. In particular it cites laws which mandate the presentation of photo ID or proof of citizenship in order to vote, and others that limit opportunities for early voting and for voter registration drives. The NAACP expressed similar concerns about such laws in a 2011 report.
Currently, 31 states require some form of ID in order to vote. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 states in 2011 alone considered legislation that either created new requirements to show ID at the polls, or placed additional restrictions on what kinds of ID would be accepted.
A 2006 study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University estimated that up to 25% of African-American citizens of voting age do not have current government issued-photo ID, compared with 8% of white citizens.
The U.S. Department of Justice is challenging a recent South Carolina law, which requires all voters to present a state-issued voter registration card before balloting.
The league used a town hall meeting held at Howard University on Wednesday night to launch a campaign, “Occupy the Vote to Educate, Employ and Empower,” intended to counter voter restriction measures. The goal is to challenge the laws, but also to educate people about what documents they need in order to vote, and increase registration rates among African-Americans.
“We must occupy the vote so we have a voice about the future of this nation,” league president Marc Morial told the audience. “Not now and not on our watch are we going to allow a nation, which spends a trillion dollars to defend democracy abroad, erect fences and barriers here at home.”
Although the biggest change in the 2012 index was in civic engagement, the greatest inequalities were still counted in the categories of economics (an index score of 56.3%, 0.3% less than 2011) and social justice (56.8%, 1.2% lower than in 2011). But these were offset slightly in the overall index score by small gains in the scores for health (which at 76.5%, rose 1.5% over the previous year) and education (which increased by 0.7% to 79.7%).