By: Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Politicians, pundits, and the press are still figuring out what the election of Doug Jones means for Alabama — a state that voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump and that seemed all but destined to make Roy Moore, the twice-removed judge, the heir to the former Senate seat of Jeff Sessions. With eyes toward 2018 and beyond, there’s also talk of how last Tuesday’s special election could represent a sea change in the political fortunes of both Democrats and Republicans for years to come — to say nothing of the president’s agenda, which now hangs in the balance thanks to his bare Senate majority.
Thinking about the national political implications of the Alabama race has a place, but it may miss the forest for the trees. As someone who leads a nonpartisan organization that works to ensure that African Americans have a full and fair opportunity to participate in the political process, I would like instead to elevate the aspirations of the scores of African American voters who last week showed up to the polls and made a difference. Voters who braved the cold in an off-year election and showed everyone, no matter their political affiliation, that they care about Alabama and its future. Voters with hopes and fears and disaffections — much like those white, rural voters who felt ignored by the Washington establishment and that, in profile after glowing profile, told us that they longed for an America that was once great.
That cherished past has never existed for African Americans — in Alabama or elsewhere. Since this nation’s founding through Reconstruction and this very moment, we continue to fight for even the basic right to cast a ballot without onerous state requirements that needlessly suppress turnout among the poorest or most disadvantaged among us. All eyes may be on Alabama at this time, but the organization I lead, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, was there on Election Day in 2016, too — providing nonpartisan assistance to voters confused by the state’s voter ID requirements or otherwise puzzled that their names were not in the official voter rolls. Swing state or not, these barriers to the franchise are unacceptable.
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