Sunday, January 29, 2012

“If it looks like a duck; walks like a duck; and quacks, it’s a duck:” The Party of Lincoln’s Race Problem

Its official, Herman Cain has "enthusiastically" endorsed Newt Gingrich for president of the United States.

"There are many reasons, but one of the biggest reasons is that I know that Speaker Gingrich is a patriot. Speaker Gingrich is not afraid of bold ideas, and I also know that Speaker Gingrich is running for president and going through this sausage grinder," said Cain. "I know what this sausage grinder is all about. I know that he is going through this sausage grinder because he cares about the future of the United States of America."

Cain, the former head of Godfather Pizza and a former frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination who suspended his campaign in December under a cloud of allegations of sexual and marital deviance is black, and to some, this is the kind of prima facie evidence that supports Newt's claim that he is not a racist.

I concede that there are times when my eyes and ears seem to lie to me about certain things, but in the case of Newt Gingrich, I like the old saying, "if it looks like a duck; walks like a duck; and quacks, it's a duck."

Based on his actions and words during much of his public life, in my mind, Newt Gingrich is an unapologetic and quite dangerous racist.

In an effort to win the Republican nomination for president, he has decided to use to his advantage the fear, anger, resentment, and anxieties of many white voters who make up the base of the Republican Party.

New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, opines about why Gingrich's campaign is so appealing to many white Republican voters: "he connects with a silent slice of their core convictions – their deep-seated, long-simmering issues with an 'elite' media bias, minority 'privilege' and Obama's 'otherness.'"

Speaker Gingrich is not alone. All the Republican nominees vying for President Obama's job – some more overtly than others – during this presidential nomination cycle have played the race card to gain the support of their Party's white voters.

Nonetheless, as a good social scientist, I'm open to the possibility that my mind can be changed if presented with countervailing evidence.

The Republican Party can put to rest the notion that its nominees are tapping into white racial animus to advance their presidential ambitions. The remaining Republican candidates can agree to participate in several debates that are dedicated solely to issues concerning people of color - for example, racial and economic inequality, educational opportunity, mass incarceration, welfare dependency, immigration, single-parented households, and so on.

Several nights devoted to Republican perspectives on the nature of the racial and ethnic divide and their solutions would be eye opening. They should have a racially and ethnically diverse panel of reporters ask the questions to assuage any concerns people may have about the people asking the questions.

The Republicans running for president could silence all of their critics (like me) who say they are nothing but a bunch of racists (albeit some worse and more dangerous than others) and show the country that they are truly, as they say, "the Party of Lincoln!"

Finally, I think black Republicans would also benefit from a candid discussion about race and ethnicity and should lead the call for such a debate – it would reveal all the good ideas they always say Republican have, and, as they argue, show why black people like me need to "get off the liberal plantation."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Preserving Voting Rights and Expanding Access to Voter Registration in Connecticut

In commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, in my role as Chair of the Board of Directors for Common Cause in Connecticut, I participated in a press conference – along with Connecticut's Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill – to call for preserving voting rights and expanding access to voter registration.

At the press conference, the Governor and Secretary of the State proposed the following legislation: Election Day Registration, online voter registration, and amending the state's constitution to allow "no excuse" absentee voting.

My sense is that these can be really important election reforms for Connecticut. For example:

Election Day Registration can be an important tool for boosting voter turnout.

  • Voter turnout rates are typically 10 – 12 percent higher in states that offer Election Day registration, higher than in states without EDR.
  • EDR allows voters who may have been mistakenly purged from voting rolls to cast a meaningful ballot.
  • EDR assists young voters and college students, who tend to move frequently, making it harder for them to keep their voter registration current.
  • Voter turnout in 2010 was ten points higher in the states with Election Day Registration.

A growing number of states allow citizens to register to vote over the Internet. According to a report by the PEW Center for Research, online registration is very popular, especially among young people.

  • PEW found that in Arizona and Washington, registrants tend to be much younger, and despite their youth, young people who registered to vote over the internet turned out to vote at higher rates in 2008 than those who registered by traditional methods.
  • In Arizona, 25 percent of voter registration occurred online the first year it was implemented in 2003. By 2007, nearly 3 out of 4 registrations occurred over the Internet.
  • Among those residents who have used the Internet registration systems, more than 9 in 10 found it easy to use, and would recommend online registration to others in the state.

The National Conference of State Legislators reports that 27 states and Washington, D.C. offer "no-excuse" absentee voting:

  • According to a report by NonprofitVote, early voting (in person or by mail) accounted for nearly one-third of votes cast in 2008, and reached 27 percent to 29 percent in 2010.

I really believe that this is going to be a good year for election reform. Below are my brief comments from the press conference.

Comments from the Press Conference

Good morning, my name is Bilal Dabir Sekou. I am an Associate Professor of Political Science in Hillyer College at the University of Hartford. I am also the Chair of the Board of Directors for Common Cause in Connecticut.

I want to thank Governor Malloy, Lieutenant-Governor Wyman, and Secretary of State Merrill for the opportunity to speak at this press conference today.

On August 18, 1970, John Gardner, founded Common Cause. Laying out a core objective of the organization, Mr Gardner wrote: "We want public officials to have literally millions of American citizens looking over their shoulders at every move they make."

The right to vote is the bedrock that our democracy is built on; an important tool the people can use to influence every move that the people's government makes.

Since 2008, in a number of states across the country, there has been a comprehensive and coordinated assault on the right to vote.

According to a new report by the NAACP, 14 states have passed 25 various measures designed to restrict or limit the ballot access of voters, threatening to disenfranchise more than 5 million people, a disproportionate number of whom are people of color, the young, and the elderly.

The people who pass these measures say that their aim is to prevent voter fraud. They are telling a lie. What they are really attempting to do is legislate voter suppression.

The Governor and Secretary of State are to be applauded for promoting measures that expand the opportunity for citizens to become involved in the political system.

As we all know, every national election, millions of people do not cast a ballot because of a registration problem or they are unable to make it to the polls for a variety of reasons.

Election Day Registration, online voter registration, and amending the state's constitution to allow "no excuse" absentee voting are election reform measures that promote democratic citizenship and can be important tools for boosting voter turnout.

Let me finish by saying that it is quite appropriate that we are holding this press conference today, on Martin Luther King Day, a day that draws our attention to the seminal achievements of the Civil Rights Movement.

In a 1957 speech titled "Give Us The Ballot," Dr. King spoke clearly about the link between the right to vote and democratic citizenship:

"So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind – it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact – I can only submit to the edict of others."

Nearly 50 years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act. The President framed that landmark moment in U.S. history this way:

"Many of the issues of civil rights are very complex and most difficult. But about this there can and should be no argument. Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. There is no reason which can excuse the denial of that right. There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right."

I take from Dr. King and President Johnson's words a simple standard that should guide the administration of our state's election system: 1) everyone who wants to be registered is registered; 2) everyone who wants to vote can vote; and 3) every vote that is cast is a vote that is counted.