Some Republicans and far-right groups’ attacks on voting rights and American democracy are making it harder for Black people to achieve racial equality, according to a new report from the National Urban League.
The civil rights organization on Tuesday released its annual State of Black America report, titled “Under Siege: The Plot to Destroy Democracy.” Among other things, the findings showed the social and economic status of Black Americans; how African Americans felt about social justice issues; and revealed the various tactics that make it harder for Black people to vote.
Citing a record number of voters from communities of color using mail-in ballots and early voting, the authors say partisan politicians in state legislatures around the country have drafted bills and passed laws making it harder for Black Americans to vote and they see no signs of the effort slowing down.
“Historic voter turnout in the 2020 election sparked the beginning of one of the most insidious partisan attacks on voting rights in American history,” the authors of the report write.
Marc Morial, the president and CEO of the National Urban League, told CNN that without the right to vote for Black people, racial equity cannot be achieved.
“If we don’t have the right to vote for officials who share the concerns of our community, we have no voice,” he said. “We have no say and American democracy is undermined. We will fight to protect American democracy and the right to vote until hell freezes over.”
Before 2020, absentee voting was neither controversial nor subject to legislative attack, according to the report.
“Republicans passed no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia in 2005.” And as recently as 2019, broad bipartisan majorities expanded access to absentee voting in Pennsylvania. But “after 2020, the first year that nonwhite voters began relying on mail voting in large numbers, mail voting became the subject of intense and politicized scrutiny across America,” the authors wrote.
In Georgia, for example, nearly 30% of Black voters cast their ballots by mail, compared to 24% of White voters — a reversal from past behaviors. More than 1.3 million Georgians voted absentee.
In 2021, 19 states passed 34 laws making it harder for Black people to vote by making mail-in voting more difficult, imposing strict signature requirements and reducing polling place availability, according to the report. The report also reveals that this year, 18 states have already carried over at least 152 restrictive bills from the previous legislative session.
Combating the assault on voting rights should be the number one priority for Black Americans to ensure challenges and disparities that Black Americans face are dealt with from the ground up, Morial told CNN.
The National Urban League worked with Benenson Strategy Group and conducted about 1,674 interviews online earlier this March among people living in the United States from ages 18 and older to get insight on the issues that Black Americans face.
The Urban League marked the report’s release with a special launch event Tuesday that brought together the group’s leaders, members of Congress, civil rights activists, as well as the next generation of leaders.
The civil rights organization chose to host event at Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta because they say Georgia is ground zero for voter suppression.
“Even with our rich civil rights legacy and progress, Georgia right now is ground zero for the fight to protect our democracy,” Nancy Flake Johnson, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Atlanta said Tuesday. “We are embracing the task of re-educating voters on the power, the history, the privilege and the urgency of now for voting.”
At the launch event, Mayor of Atlanta Andre Dickens stressed the importance of voting in the upcoming election.
“Our state was just one of 49 states where legislation was introduced over the last year that will restrict access to the ballot box,” Dickens said. “Remember that it is imperative that we remain politically engaged and active. This is the way we will move our city forward.”
The report also found that the main tactics that restrict voting rights include gerrymandering, voter suppression, election sabotage and intimidation. The executive summary of the report says the redrawing of congressional maps, extremely strict voter ID laws and efforts to discredit votes are attempts to silence Black voices.
“I’m extremely concerned that these efforts will have an impact,” Morial said. “That’s why we have to do everything in the courts, in the political arena, in the court of public opinion, to organize efforts to counteract it. We have to counteract it because it is so corrosive and so damaging to American democracy.”
Morial also said the National Urban League is also encouraging Black voters to support candidates — both locally and nationally — who not only publicly go on record in support of the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, but who are also in opposition to the use of the filibuster block.
The annual report also calculates an Equality Index every year that reveals the disparities for Black Americans relative to White Americans in economic opportunity, education, health, social justice and civic engagement.
Authors of the report also surveyed thousands of Black and White people to gauge their views on issues of race and justice in America.
One of the main goals of the report is to help Black Americans reclaim their right to vote in every election. The National Urban League plans to advise many Black communities through the upcoming midterm elections to ensure a record turnout later this year, Morial said.
They also plan to launch a civic engagement campaign called “Reclaim Your Vote” to ensure the integrity of future elections so that Black Americans can be put on a path to racial equality.
“Frustration is not a strategy, and it leads to dejection and defeat if we allow it to consume our thinking,” Morial said. “We have to push back even in the most difficult times we have faced as people. The times demand that we be resolute.”