About the NAACP’s Civic Engagement Program


Census:  Every 10 years, a national census is conducted, counting every person living in the United States. Census results are used by federal and local governments to distribute over $400 billion dollars every year in much needed aid to local educational, employment, housing, health care and veteran services. In addition, political representation in the House of Representatives and Congressional, state and local electoral district lines are also drawn using census data.

Today all of us face great challenges. For African Americans, the challenges are even steeper: Rising unemployment and targeted defunding of the public safety net, increasing hate crime and hate speech, deep and persistent divestment of urban areas where Black and Brown people are concentrated, and a foreclosure crisis that has literally changed the face of major cities throughout the US. Our communities are disproportionately impacted by a host of social and economic issues, and a correct census profile can help address these issues by ensuring that appropriate funding is being infused into underserved communities for government services, strong political representation and civil rights enforcement.

In the past, African-Americans, Hispanics and low income residents have been more likely to be undercounted than other people in the census. This means our communities are more likely to lose political representation and much needed funding in areas most in need.

Being counted helps our communities get more of the respect, resources, and representation we deserve. Thank you for all you hard work in making sure we counted every American. Your participation made a big difference.

Reapportionment and Redistricting:  Every ten years, following the U.S. census, all local, state and federal election districts must be re-mapped to account for the shifts in the population. Some states will gain new seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and some states will lose seats. State legislatures are largely responsible for conducting the redistricting of the U.S. House and state legislative districts as mandated by the U.S. Constitution.

During the past 40 years, federal and state laws governing the redistricting process have expanded dramatically. In many parts of the country, minority representatives were not elected until voting districts were drawn to fairly reflect the population.

We know the importance of equal representation in government. The men and women we send to the state house and the U.S. Capitol are our voice for crafting laws involving jobs, healthcare, taxes and education. It was our vote for members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate that made a difference recently when the U.S. Congress passed laws to address the financial crisis, the oil spill recovery, funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act and Equal Pay Act.

Remember-- redistricting is largely in the hands of state representatives. Our power is our vote on who we will send to the state house to re-map the election districts and who we send to the U.S. Capitol to represent us in Congress. We worked hard to count every person this year during the 2010 Census. Now it's time for the next step: vote on November 2, 2010.

Elections Protection:  Election protection is one of the nation’s most comprehensive and effective non-partisan efforts that make sure that every vote cast is counted. In the 2010 midterm-elections, the NAACP will lead the way by partnering with law firms and coalition partners across the country to educate voters about their rights and to provide legal relief on Election Day. The NAACP Election Protection efforts will assist voters in 48 states and the District of Columbia. The NAACP and coalition partners will staff an election protection hotline (1-866-OUR-VOTE) which will receive phone calls in October and November. We plan to have over 2,000 lawyers, law students, and paralegals working to make the NAACP Election Day efforts a historical success. We will also develop information on voting rights and distribute in our communities. With this momentum, the NAACP will use its victories to guide our election reform agenda leading up to the 2012 presidential election and beyond.

Election Reform:  Low voter registration rates, low voter turnout, and voter suppression have plagued our election system for longer than we’ve been a country. When George Washington ran for the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758, he purchased and distributed many gallons of rum, wine, brandy, and beer to his neighbors to buy their votes. From New York’s Tammany Hall to the South’s Jim Crow laws to Chicago’s Daley machine, manipulating election results has been a time-honored tradition.

Today the manipulation continues, despite attempts to fix some of the more egregious problems identified in the past, voters contended with a myriad of problems caused by lack of funds and downright ineptitude. Other problems such as the unequal allocation of voting machinery, voter misinformation campaigns, and threats of challengers at the polls, and deliberate acts of voter suppression still exist.

 The NAACP has worked on election reform issues for all of its 101 years. We will continue to collaborate with strategic partners and stakeholders to fix the system. We realize that mass civic engagement will solve the problems of our broken election system. We need to galvanize public opinion and create an unstoppable movement for change. We need to think BIG. We must support real election reform:

  • Voter Verified Paper Ballot
  • Fight Photo ID legislation
  • Election Day Registration
  • Nonpartisan election administration
  • No-fault absentee ballots
  • Voter Centers
  • DC Voting Rights
  • Electoral College reform

Historical view

In 1965, amidst the discouragement of racial discrimination, the NAACP registered approximately 80,000 voters in the southern states. This remarkable increase sparked the attention of our society which led the 1979 initiation that introduced the first bill ever to be signed by Detroit Michigan Governor, William G. Milliken. The new bill provided high school principals or their deputies to issue registration cards on the spot and act as registrars to certify that students meet the state's minimum voter eligibility requirements. (In order to vote, students must be 18, U.S. citizens and residents of the state for 30 days.) With voter registration now being allowed in high schools, the 133,000 graduates from Michigan high schools were eligible to vote in the 1980 presidential election. This bill resulted in similar practices launched in high schools in over 24 other states.

In 1982, the NAACP registered 850,000 voters and in 1991 encouraged a 76% turn-out of African-American voters in southern states. In 2000, the NAACP was extremely instrumental in one of the largest voter turnouts in over 20 years. In 2004, nearly 3 million more African Americans surged to the polls than in 2000, accounting for upwards of 20% of the overall voter participation increase. In 2008 the African American voter turnout rate increased 4.9 percentage points, from 60.3% in 2004 to 65.3%.

The turnout rate for African American Women increased 5.1 percentage points, from 63.7% in 2004 to 68.8% in 2008. Two million more blacks reported voting in 2008 than said the same in 2004. The share of eligible voters who were black increased from 11.6% in 2004 to 11.8%. Overall, among all racial, ethnic and gender groups, black women had the highest voter turnout rate in November's election -- a first. The voter turnout rate among young black eligible voters was higher than that of young eligible voters of any other racial and ethnic group in 2008. This, too, was a first. From 2004 to 2008, the greatest increases were in Southern states with large black eligible voter populations:

  • Mississippi (where the voter turnout rate was up 8 percentage points),
  • Georgia (7.5 points),
  • North Carolina (6.1 points)
  • Louisiana (6.0 points).
  • District of Columbia (6.9 points)