Tamika Greer

ATLANTA, GA — On the heels of 39 states adopting new legislative maps and with redistricting in process in states such as Florida and Louisiana, a collection of Black women executive directors in the South outlined the conundrum facing voters. The Black Southern Women’s Collaborative (BSWC) noted that despite population growth, unfair redistricting processes will make it harder for voters of color to elect candidates of their choice. The group issued the following statement:

“There are currently 5 million unheard voices in Florida,” said Rev. Rhonda Thomas, executive director of Faith in Florida and a BSWC member. “I am determined to make those voices heard. To do so, we need an equitable and fair redistricting process and the elimination of restrictive voting laws.”

Redistricting is still underway in Florida, where the governor took the rare step of drawing his own legislative maps versus allowing the state legislature, which typically draws maps, to do so. Florida also has a controversial proposal that would harshly penalize groups for errors on voter registration forms. Advocates such as Thomas contend that such penalties would depress voter registration, thereby limiting the number of people who participate in the process.

“In addition to drawing unfair maps, far too many conservative legislators are taking draconian efforts that will limit who can vote. Efforts to restrict the franchise are not about election integrity, as many conservatives are quick to claim, but rather about making it harder for communities of color and persons living in poverty to vote and have their votes counted,” said Ashley K. Shelton, executive director of the Power Coalition for Equity & Justice and a BSWC member.

In Louisiana, the Senate ignored advocates’ pleas to create a new majority Black district to reflect Black population growth. Advocates, who held a statewide roadshow connecting voters and legislators, are hoping Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards vetoes unfair maps, especially since Black voters helped him get into office.

“In today’s environment, too many thought leaders are making conversations about voting rights academic, but the motivation for restricting voting is simply about power,” said Nse Ufot, executive director of the New Georgia Project and a BSWC member. “Republicans wants to hold onto power. They want control at every level of government, from school boards to prosecutor and district attorney races to state legislatures to statewide offices to Congress and the White House. That creates conflict, because in the marketplace of ideas, fewer and fewer Americans are subscribing to the GOP vision for the nation.”

One of the tools at advocates’ disposal is litigation. In states such as Alabama and Ohio, litigation is the only thing blocking Republicans from implementing gerrymandered maps, which in many cases, are racially discriminatory.

“Power is everything,” said Tameka Greer, executive director of Memphis Artists for Change and a BSWC member. “It is so important to some that they will engineer the rules to maintain it. In Tennessee, as in other parts of the country, Republican map drawers are refusing to create new electoral opportunities for communities of color. They are actively dismantling Black voting power by carving up Black communities in some cases or packing Black communities into fewer districts in other places (and employing both tactics in some cases). These manipulative tactics make it harder for voters of color to elect candidates of choice, regardless of turnout or population growth.”