Kierra Leggett | Editor-in-Chief 

The 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte provided the Voting Rights Institute with the opportunity to shine a national spotlight on the issue of voter suppression, both historic and present-day, in a free-ranging forum discussion that included celebrities and nationally renowned political figures.

Voter suppression involves actions designed to prevent specific groups of voters from casting their ballots.

Reiterated throughout the Sept 6 program was the fact that voters are only required to provide one form of identification to cast their ballot. Another point stressed by the panel was that college ID may not serve as adequate identification because any identification that voters present on Election Day must have an expiration date.

Along with providing facts about voter suppression, the panel gave advice on precautions voters can take to make sure that they do not fall victim to it in this year’s election.

At  the Voting Rights Institute, Congressman John Lewis addressed an audience on the topic of voter suppression along with a panel that included President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Ben Jealous, actress and Voter Latino advocate America Ferrera and Rock The Vote President Heather Smith. MSNBC correspondent Melissa Harris-Perry moderated the panel.

Harris-Perry, who is also a professor of political science at Tulane University, began the discussion by asking each member of the five-person panel a question related to their specific field of expertise. For Jealous, that question was how the NAACP was devising a strategy to combat “the complex array of voter suppression efforts.” Jealous responded that the presence of the NAACP in all 50 states served as an advantage in getting the word out about voter suppression and when referencing supporters of the grandfather clause and white primaries he said, “ You can’t hold off the future forever. … The future caught up with them last time,  and it will catch up with them again.”

Best known for her role as Betty Suarez on the television show “Ugly Betty,” Ferrera was asked to comment on the difficulties of building a coalition between Latinos and African Americans during this election. Ferrera first responded by saying, “Nothing made me happier last night [Wednesday, Sept. 6] than seeing Michelle Obama sitting next to Julian Castro. I think that is incredibly indicative that Latinos and African Americans see themselves in each other’s struggle.” She went on to say that empowering the Latino community, a community that “feels attacked” to participate in voting is an “enormous policy,” and also that Latinos can learn a lot from how their, “ African American brothers and sisters have handled themselves in this country.”

Krystal LeaPhart, a senior in Legal Communications at Howard University was present at the Voting Rights Institute, and had this to say, “I thought it was a really productive event. On one side it addressed the issues and things that are going on [to suppress votes] but I also enjoyed that they [the panel] provided solutions to the issues. I especially appreciated NAACP President Ben Jealous’ comment about the poll tax analogy. You know the laws are here, and the restrictions are here so now we have to follow them to get rid of them later because we still need to cast our votes.”

The institute concluded with remarks from Congressman Lewis, who was arrested 40 times during the 1960s as a result of his efforts in the Civil Rights Movement. “I believe it in my gut that there are forces on the other side in a systematic, deliberate way, want to steal this election before it even takes place,” said Lewis.  “We cannot and must not let that happen.”