NEW ORLEANS,La—Voting rights is a national conversation that has been ongoing, long before 2021’s presidential election.
Voter suppression, in terms of race, did not end when the 15th amendment was ratified in 1870. In 1896, over 130,000 African American males were registered to vote in the state of Louisiana. By 1904, only 1,300 were registered out of a population of 650,000 thousand African Americans in Louisiana.
Libby Neidenbach is the Visitor Services Trainer at The Historic New Orleans Collection. She is adept at the history of voting rights in the state. She attributes the sudden decrease of black voters in the Southern United States, after the 15th amendment protected citizens from a denial of the right to vote based on race, because of a change in the way laws were written.
Neidenbach says, “the trick, was for these conservative, ex-confederate white democrats to have created racially neutral language in the constitution that circumvented the 15th amendment. With these voter laws that are being passed today, in 2021, you can’t help but hear the parallels with Jim Crow Era requirements. The attempt is to use this language that is very neutral. However, when you really drill down to who it’s actually affecting, I think the discrimination is there.”
Since 1956, the ACLU of Louisiana has fought for civil rights and voting rights. They continue to see voter suppression tactics being used in the present. Chris Kaiser is the Advocacy Director says the organization is fighting to protect mail-in ballots and pushing for automatic and online voter registration. They are pushing for Congress to reinstate the core protections of the Voter Rights Act that was struck down in 2013. One of the most important issues the ACLU is concerned with is gerrymandering and the redistricting process that is currently underway, in the state of Louisiana.
Kaiser says, “when we talk about voter suppression, we are not always talking about people not being able to go to the polls. Sometimes we are talking about carving up communities that have common interests. In diluting their votes across many different electoral districts, their votes don’t count as much and that’s what we are still seeing today. Louisiana has one of the most gerrymandered maps in the country, whether you are talking about state legislature or congress.”
The ACLU is strongly urging Louisiana residents to pay attention to the redistricting process and attend a set of meetings that are taking place all over the state, during the summer and fall.
“This process happens only once every ten years. In early 2022, the legislature will come back and hold a special session. Before that, throughout 2021 in the summer and fall, there are going to be regional meetings across the state, where people can attend and express their needs around fair representation in their own communities. Residents need to make the case for the legislature to enact a new set of maps that fairly represent the people of Louisiana,” says Kaiser.
Despite the ACLU’s views on the state’s history of voter suppression as well as the current concerns, they also see some good in Louisiana. Kaiser says, “We saw some significant wins this year. We extended early voting at a time when other states in the south were restricting early voting. We also streamlined the process for people coming out of prison, to register to vote and be re-enfranchised.”
The ACLU is on a campaign to raise awareness of the redistricting process. To participate in the state legislature’s meetings, you can click here. To learn more about voter suppression history in Louisiana, you can click here.