NAACP Applauds Biden's Voting Rights Message

One of the top concerns of delegates to the NAACP convention in Houston is the spread of voter ID laws, which proponents say reduces fraud. Opponents say requiring voters to present government-issued identification cards tends to suppress the minority vote. Vice President Joe Biden addressed the group Thursday.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Voting rights have been a big topic at this year's convention of the NAACP in Houston. Republicans across the country have been pushing for tougher voter I.D. laws, which the nation's oldest civil rights organization contends are aimed at hurting voter turnout among African-Americans. Yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden joined a long list of convention speakers addressing that issue, as NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Vice President Biden's job yesterday was to fire up a group of voters extremely important to President Obama. He did that with a rousing speech touting first-term accomplishments and by contrasting the president's views of health care, taxes and other issues with those of Republican Mitt Romney. But the crowd let loose its biggest cheer when Biden spoke of the importance of protecting the right to vote.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We see a future where those rights are expanded, not diminished, where racial profiling is a thing of the past, where access to the ballot is expanded and unencumbered.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Biden added:

BIDEN: Did you think we'd be fighting these battles again?

CROWD: No.

GONYEA: Biden wasn't the only administration official to bring that message to the NAACP this week. Attorney General Eric Holder, whose Justice Department is currently fighting a new Texas voter I.D. law in the courts, spoke to the delegates on Tuesday.

ERIC HOLDER: Under the proposed law, concealed handgun licenses would be acceptable forms of photo I.D., but student I.D.s would not.

GONYEA: Holder cited recent studies showing that only 8 percent of white voting-age citizens don't have a government-issued photo I.D., but among African-Americans the number is more than three times that.

HOLDER: Many of those without I.D.s would have to travel great distances to get them, and some would struggle to pay for the documents they might need to obtain them. We call those poll taxes.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: Holder said civil rights gains of a half-century ago are at risk of being reversed. Advocates of voter I.D. laws say it's a reasonable request. Your photo I.D. proves you're who you say you are and that you're registered at the precinct where you've shown up to vote. Some at the convention were disappointed that President Obama, citing scheduling conflicts, didn't make it to talk to them directly. He only appeared in a short, prerecorded video. But NAACP Vice President Hilary Shelton says Biden, Holder and others made the point.

HILARY SHELTON: If we cannot vote, our voices cannot be heard on the issues that are important in this democracy to our communities and to our families. And we see the Attorney General's office and the face of Eric Holder providing that very protection we all need.

GONYEA: But others here said a presidential appearance would have provided a big emotional boost. Some said if voter I.D. laws aren't stopped, the potential for a lower African-American turnout makes the job of activists doubly important. Connie Louise Johnson is from Thibodeaux, Louisiana.

CONNIE LOUISE JOHNSON: We have to get out the vote, not just talk about it. But we have to vigilant in getting those persons who are not registered registered, and getting those persons who are registered interested enough to be enthusiastic about your vote counting.

GONYEA: But Johnson says she thinks African-American voters understand the stakes this year. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Houston.

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