Under Attack: New Voter Laws Could Affect Voting Rights 

President and CEO of New Detroit Inc, Michael Rafferty. 



Voter suppression is a top concern for several underrepresented communities across the country. For Black voters, multiple decades of tactics used to quiet their right to vote have been exercised and now, new laws may create additional barriers for not only Black voters, but low-income and oppressed voters as well.  


In June, Republicans, who control the Michigan State Senate, passed legislation that would increase the difficulty for voters looking to cast their ballot this election season. New laws would require a valid photo ID to be present in order to vote in person. Under the new legislation, additional identity requirements would be implemented for people who want to vote by mail. 


“Voter suppression efforts in Michigan and across the country are designed to make voting more difficult.  Many Black Detroiters without easy access to transportation utilized absentee ballots in 2020.  The proposed Michigan legislation would make it more difficult for the Secretary of State to provide absentee ballots and would prohibit pre-paid postage putting another burden on the voter,” explains Michael Rafferty, president and CEO of New Detroit Inc. “In addition, absentee voters would be required to attach a copy of their identification to their ballot.  Those same people who have a difficult time getting a ride to the polls would have to make an additional trip to the library or a local business to get a copy of their identification. These requirements will discourage voters, particularly those in low-income neighborhoods with transportation challenges like many of our neighborhoods in Detroit.” 


African Americans have faced voter suppression tactics since before the passing of the 15th amendment. Passed in 1870 and meant to protect the voting rights of Black men, the 15th amendment, by law, guaranteed Black men the right to participate in elections. However, executing their vote frequently became a matter of life and death.  


Looking to help combat the issue of voter suppression for African Americans is one local community organization. New Detroit was formed in response to the 1967 riots and civil unrest in the city. A private, non-profit, racial justice organization that focuses on racial understanding and racial equity, has now formed an ad hoc Voting Rights Committee. With voting rights in jeopardy, the race is on to stop voter suppression.  


“The ad hoc committee was formed at a recent Board meeting when members decided it was critical to mobilize against the trend toward voter suppression.  Members of the Board volunteered to serve on the ad hoc committee,” says Rafferty.  


From a diverse coalition of community leaders, New Detroit will partner with other organizations, such as Promote the Vote, to lead the charge in protecting voting rights. Legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states and Michigan is no exception. With 39 bills introduced that could make voting more difficult, Michigan voters could see a change at the polls.  


“New Detroit has been carefully monitoring the voting rights issue here in Michigan and across the country.  As proposed legislation began to move in the Michigan Senate over the past several weeks, our Board stepped forward to increase our commitment to education and advocacy on this issue,” says Rafferty. “Board members are unanimously committed to oppose any legislation that makes it more difficult for Michigan residents to exercise their right to vote, and believe strongly that many of these measures will have a more pronounced impact on communities of color.  The 2020 election was one of the safest, highest turnout elections in Michigan history.  There is no benefit in restrictive legislation.” 


An historic election riddled with accusations of voter fraud, politicians are taking steps to crack down on, what they believe, are validity issues in upcoming elections. Though there was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 presidential election, some Republicans believe re-establishing pseudo grandfather laws will quiet the dreams of voters. For a city that is predominantly Black, the need for fair laws is even more important.  


“Nearly all of the voting legislation passed across the country will have a disproportionate impact on Black Americans. The proposed legislation in Michigan is more of the same. As a majority Black city, it is important that Detroit is in the forefront of any opposition to restrictive legislation regarding the right to vote,” says Rafferty. “Black Americans fought long and hard to secure and protect the right to vote and we cannot stand by and watch it compromised today.” 


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