A slew of recent voter identification laws are increasingly threatening the voting rights of people of color. This erosion of our most basic civil right comes alongside historic levels of attacks on reproductive health services. The two are not unrelated. Women of color stand at the crossroads of what is in essence a double disenfranchisement. When they are denied the opportunity to participate in civic life, they also lose the ability to voice their opinions and hold lawmakers accountable on the reproductive health issues that directly affect them.
In the 2011 general election, Mississippi voters rejected an extreme ballot initiative that would have granted personhood status to embryos and fetuses, which could have outlawed a number of common medical services for women, including popular forms of birth control, treatments for miscarriage and infertility, and abortion. In the same election, voters approved an initiative restricting the ability of Mississippi residents to vote by requiring unnecessary photo identification. As a result of this completely unwarranted voter identification initiative, nearly 75,000 women of color may be prevented from voting in Mississippi. Such a large number can have a significant impact on electoral outcomes: for instance, it takes only 89,285 signatures to place an initiative on the ballot in Mississippi, not to mention that the margin of defeat for the state’s personhood initiative was a mere 130,000 votes.
Mississippi’s voter identification law is just one example of the record number of voting restrictions that have been introduced and adopted throughout the country in advance of the 2012 election. But what Mississippi’s 2011 election also teaches us is that the fundamental right to vote is only the first of many rights at stake. Women of color, by losing the ability to express themselves on the issues that directly impact them, will lose their ability to protect a range of constitutional rights, including the right to decide whether, when, and with whom to have children.
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