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A Voting Rights Emergency

POSTED: September 21, 2012, 6:00 am

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A coalition of civil rights, social justice and faith-based organizations have come together to sound the alarm over attempts to suppress the voting rights of communities of color. Coalition members include the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, National Urban League, the PICO Network, AAJC, the National Congress of American Indians and the Advancement Project. The member groups represent African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders and Native Hawaiians.

"America is the leading democracy in the world, and was founded on the principle that we all are created equal," said Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. "Throughout our history, Americans have given much—in blood and treasure—to help secure the right to vote both here at home and in other countries. We must strengthen our efforts to protect this right, and we must educate and invigorate our communities so we can increase our turnout and ensure that our voices are heard."

In states across the country, Republican dominated legislatures and governors have pushed new laws requiring photo ID for voters to cast ballots and have sought to end efforts at early balloting. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recently instructed a lower court to review the state’s recently passed voter ID law, a measure that has come under harsh criticism from civil rights groups. Pennsylvania is but one state where Republicans have sought to restrict access to the ballot to groups most identified as Democratic voters likely to support the re-election of President Obama. These laws have been justified as a reasonable response to supposed voter fraud. That rationale is not supported by data or electoral experience; in the Pennsylvania case the state admitted before the court that there was scant evidence of large scale voter fraud. Raising suspicions further is a videotape of Pennsylvania’s House Majority Leader Mike Turzai proclaiming the state to be sewn up for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney with the passing of the voter ID law.




Ralph Edwards, CEO of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies notes, “Participatory democracy and civic engagement are bedrock American values, and that is why it is so outrageous that states would be moving to make voting more difficult, particularly when there is no evidence that voter fraud is a problem in our country. Expanding voter participation, and not suppressing it, is the way to live up to America's most cherished ideals. We are proud to join in this effort to help citizens overcome any efforts to prevent or discourage them from voting, and ultimately to reverse this dangerous folly that is sweeping through our voting system."

The coalition is calling attention to efforts in states across the country that will disfranchise voters of color and are encouraging their communities to take a few steps to fully participate in the democratic process. The steps recommended include:

Check your registration status
Check the documentation needed to register to vote
Check the deadlines for registration and early/absentee voting
Check your state voter laws
Check your polling location and hours

National Voter Registration Day is September 25th and the coalition is working to remind communities of color of the legacy of intimidation and discrimination in the electoral process in our country. "It's been more than a century since we've seen such a tidal wave of assaults on the right to vote. Historically, when voting rights are attacked, it's done to facilitate attacks on other rights. It is no mistake that the groups who are behind this are simultaneously attacking very basic women's rights, environmental protections, labor rights, and educational access for working people and minorities," said NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous.

Data compiled by a number of independent, non-partisan organizations indicate that minorities, senior citizens, veterans, youth, low-income residents and previously convicted felons will bear the brunt of laws imposed over the last two years that cut back on voting days and times, impose rigid registration and identification requirements, and erroneously purge eligible voters from voter rolls.

In addition the coalition has announced several resources for voter information and registration. The public can call 1-866-MYVOTE1 (1-866-698-6831) to register to vote and 1-866-OURVOTE (1-866-687-8683) or go online at http://www.866ourvote.org/state for information on voting rights or to report problems with voting.

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