‘We’re going to stand for these rights’

Voter ID laws galvanize black pastors

By The Mercury

Three cheers for the black ministers in the Wichita area who, in response to voter ID laws they consider discriminatory and anti-democratic, are launching an effort to register new voters and get voters to the polls.

One of the ministers, the Rev. Reuben Eckels of New Day Christian Church in Wichita, took issue with state laws pushed through the Legislature by Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Those laws, which require a photo ID and proof of citizenship for new voter registrations, make it more difficult for minority members to be first-time voters, the Rev. Eckels told the Wichita Eagle. He called the phrase “Voter ID” the new name for an old strategy whose goal is “turn back the clock on our rights…”

The voting initiative stems from the Midwest Conference Fifth Episcopal District, which recently met in Wichita and represents about 120 churches in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri. The Kansas ministers said their get-out-the-vote effort would be statewide.

It will include canvassing neighbors and helping residents acquire the documentation they need and then making sure they become registered to vote.

“If we can get them out in this midterm, we think we can turn back the attempt to take away the right to vote,” the Rev. Eckels said. He contends that voter ID laws run counter to Kansas’ legacy as a free state. “I don’t think you’ve seen pastors like this in the last 20 years come together and say, ‘We’re going to stand for these rights’ ” he said.

The ministers plan to work with community organizations and colleges to register new voters, with the larger goal of getting at least 80 percent of eligible voters in their churches and communities to participate in both the primary and general elections.

That would be quite an accomplishment, whether it’s driven by the refusal to be disenfranchised or simply the recognition that if eligible citizens don’t get involved in choosing their leaders, the leaders who ultimately are chosen may ignore, or worse, work against their interests.

New and existing voters would do themselves, their state and their nation a great service if, after going to the trouble to become eligible to vote, they take the additional steps of gathering sufficient information about candidates and issues to cast informed votes when they get to the polls.

To do otherwise squanders a precious right for which so many have sacrificed a great deal.

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