NAACP condemns Mich. Emergency Manager law, saying it attacks minority and urban voting rights
Michigan’s Emergency Manager law is part of a nationwide effort to shrink the electorate in a way that disproportionately eliminates blacks and other voters of color, the NAACP said last week as its members passed a resolution condemning such laws.
“We think that it attacks the voting rights of minorities and urban populations,“ said NAACP Detroit Branch President Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony who introduced language about the Michigan law to the voting rights resolution at the civil rights organization’s annual meeting in Los Angeles last week. “We are on the edge of the 2012 elections and this bill would allow the governor to eliminate the will of people by removing city councils, mayors and school boards.”
In his keynote speech to the conference NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said that the election of America’s first black president triggered a backlash “represented by not all, but definitely by the worst and most racist elements of the tea party“ has led to the greatest rollback of voter access and voting rights since 1896.
New rules for voter identification, voter registration and restrictions on voting rights for ex-felons are the major strategies, he said.
“In Wisconsin alone, fully half of black adults and half of Latino adults are ineligible to vote right now because they do not have a current state-issued ID. Simply put, people who are too poor to own a car, tend not to have a drivers license. Thus, it will have a similar impact on students and financially struggling people of all colors.”
Anthony said that Michigan’s Emergency Manager law has the same premise as the voter ID laws and is viewed by Michigan NAACP members as a back door strategy to cut into the electoral power of minority communities by making it clear that their votes don’t matter.
The NAACP resolution may help people recognize the Emergency Manager law as part of a national voter restriction agenda, said Reverend D. Alexander Bullock of Rainbow PUSH Michigan, which is working to repeal the law.
“In Michigan you have the Emergency Manager legislation that decimates democracy because it makes voting have no effect,“ he said. “If I vote for a mayor or a school board member or city council member and then a czar can come in and remove them, then what is the point of casting my vote.”
Though the Emergency Manager law was presented as a tool for dealing with communities that are in financial distress, Bullock says it was not needed because there were already measures in place to deal with financial problems in local governments.
“You don’t fix democracy by dismantling it,” Bullock said. “It’s not as if Emergency Managers come to communities and infuse them with resources and bring jobs.”
“Democracy requires dialog and engagement,” he said, and installing an Emergency Manager to run a local government is “a great way to undermine the democratic impulse.”
“The city has to pay the Emergency Manager but you go to city hall and there is no one to hold accountable.”
Bullock said that he thinks that eroding democracy was part of the intent of the Emergency Manager law.
Under Michigan’s Public Act 4, Emergency Managers can break contracts.
“Unions — love, like them or hate them — operate as an organizing force for the democratic principle,” he said, “… they are where people develop skills for articulating concerns. If unions are dismantled then you essentially dismantle the third rail of democracy. Even the NAACP national and local depend in large measure on unions.”
The Rainbow Push Coalition has asked the U.S. Dept. of Justice to respond to the Emergency Manager law, and Bullock said that he, Rev. Jesse Jackson and others met with Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez this spring.
“They were completely unaware of the situation and they seemed unmotivated to provide resources to investigate,” he said.
The federal government doesn’t seem to be willing to take on state laws that interfere with voting rights, he said.
“We are disappointed and continue to urge them to invest time, talent and treasure into looking into this.”
DOJ spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa said the department is “reviewing the information provided to us.”