By Jonathan P. Hicks
There is a continued need for Americans to be vigilant about efforts by Republican-led legislatures in the country to enact new and restrictive voter identification laws before the 2016 midterm election, a number of elected officials said at a forum in Manhattan.
The forum, "Protecting Our Vote During the Midterm Elections," was part of a series of discussions in the national convention of the National Action Network, the civil rights organization led by the Rev. Al Sharpton.
The forum on Wednesday drew several prominent politicians and civil rights leaders who said that there are likely to be more efforts to enact voter laws that are aimed at lowering the turnout of African-American and Latino voters.
"There are some extreme right-wing conservatives who wake up every day thinking about how to manipulate the electorate in a manner that benefits them," said United States Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from Brooklyn, in an interview with BET.com following the session.
"And, therefore, we must guard against any effort to steal the midterm election," Jeffries said. "The right to vote is critical to our democracy. And we must continue to push back against the sustained efforts to suppress the African-American and Latino electorate."
In advance of the 2012 presidential election, several states sought to enact new voter identification laws that have been soundly criticized by civil rights groups and many African-American and Latino elected officials for the detrimental impact they were expected to have on minority voter turnout.
Republican officials who have championed these voter laws said they were necessary to curb voter fraud. Many of those efforts were either halted or postponed by courts.
Still, many of the officials at the National Action Network forum said that these Republican-led legislatures have not let up on their efforts to enact new voter laws.
"This is a group of people who are fighting without any goals whatsoever other than their desire to stop people from voting," said Congressman Charles Rangel, a Democrat from Harlem, speaking with BET.com.
"It makes no sense," Rangel added. "These are states that are broke and who, in spite of that, are spending hundreds of millions of dollars to set up voter ID laws when there is no evidence of voter fraud. They want this as a deterrent for people who want to vote."
Congressman Jeffries added that the 2014 elections are bound to be important for President Obama. "These upcoming midterm elections will be critical for the ability of the president to execute his progressive agenda in his last two years in office. This is a critical time."