The youth vote finally turned out in significant numbers in the last presidential election but the manner in which these idealistic students are spreading their political capital, egged on by organizers—national and community—may not be the best way to “leave the planet a better place than they found it.”
“From sluggish recovery to a struggling criminal justice system, incredible problems continue to face gulf coast residents following Katrina and Rita,” Ian Harris, a student at American University’s Washington College of Law said recently.
Harris is the lead organizer for Student Activists for KatrinaRita Survivors (SAKS). SAKS received a $1,000 grant from Campus Progress “to raise awareness in the American University community of the ongoing human rights abuses occurring on the Gulf Coast following the hurricanes of 2005 and the most recent devastation caused by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.”
One of the “human rights” that such activists concern themselves with is the voting privilege that convicted felons lose when tried and sentenced. Traditionally, that is part of the punishment courts levied on such criminals.
Until recently, convicts were denied the right to vote even when their sentences were up. Most assuredly, they lost the franchise when behind bars.
Indeed, even now, many states are routinely purging voter rolls of convicted felons, such as the state of Washington, which is not known for being particularly rock- ribbed on crime or many other social issues although the commonwealth of Virginia, under Governor Kaine has added a couple of thousand felons to voting rolls in every election cycle.
“Young people are really interested in felon disenfranchisement,” community organizer Lisa Fager Badiako said on November 7 at the National Press Club. Badiako is the national programs manager for the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP).
Badianko related the story of a Birmingham, Alabama activist who registered 500 convicted felons. “The governor took them off the rolls but she got them added right back on,” Badiako said. “The state didn’t turn blue but the county [that Birmingham was in] did.”
For certain, the election of Senator Barack Obama, D-Ill., to the U. S. presidency has given veterans of the Civil Rights struggle the hard-earned satisfaction of having come full-circle from Jim Crow. Nonetheless, some younger activists regard the state election laws that were crafted in the wake of the federal voting rights laws, that civil rights demonstrators demanded and got in the 1960s, as too restrictive.
“You have to almost prove that you live at the place where you are registered to vote,” Petee Talley, the state director of Ohio Unity ’08, said at the National Press Club event on November 7. Meanwhile, young voters may
not be basing their vote on the most in-depth information available.
At the Press Club, William Kellibrew IV, Black Youth Vote! Coordinator for NCBCP related what happened when a noted rap/hip hop star received an education in current events while campaigning for Obama. “Bow Wow never watched CNN,” Kellibrew recounted. “We got Bow Wow to watch CNN and then filmed him watching it.”
“That’s powerful.” At least it was for Bow Wow: He is now a devotee of Ted Turner’s 24/7 news network.
Incidentally, a Greenberg-Quinlan-Rosner poll found that the top reasons why voters chose Obama were that:
• He “would withdraw troops from Iraq and deal with Afghanistan” [35%];
• He “would be for the middle class and cut middle class taxes first” [32%]; and
• He “has a plan for affordable health care for all.” [29%]
On the Republican side, the Democratic pollsters found that those who voted for John McCain did so because he:
• “Is a strong leader and would be a strong commander-in-chief.” [48%];
• “Would drill for oil and explore all energy sources for energy independence”[30 %];
• “Picked Sarah Palin as his running mate” [28%]; and
• “Supported the surge and would not retreat in Iraq.” [28%]
Interestingly, McCain’s favorite theme, that he is a “reformer,” only garnered him 11% of his vote, according to the Greenberg data.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.