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"Fighting Today’s Voter Suppression Laws"

January/February 2012 issue of Poverty & Race

The 2008 Presidential election saw record turnout by Black and Latino voters:

Black turnout increased from 60% in 2004 to 65%, nearly matching White turnout (66%), and Latino turnout rose from 47% to 50%. In response, conservative activists are pushing laws—modeled on legislation crafted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group supported by the Koch brothers—that requires voters to present a government-issued photo identification card in order to cast a regular ballot on Election Day. Voter ID requirements will adversely affect African-American and Latino voters, who are less likely to possess the identification cards required, when compared to Whites.

Recognizing the serious threat to democracy created by the spread of voter suppression laws—particularly those imposing a photo ID requirement in order to vote—diverse groups from across the social justice spectrum have banded together to fight against these anti-democratic efforts. This threat is well-orchestrated and well-financed, but, thankfully, the fight against it has been well-coordinated and strong. Voting rights groups, civil rights groups, civil liberties groups and democracy groups are coming together in unique partnerships to fight against this threat. This is seen most clearly in those states in the South that are required to obtain pre-approval for changes in voting procedures under the federal Voting Rights Act (through the “Section 5 preclearance” process, which can be conducted administratively through the Department of Justice or through federal court, as the State elects).
  • In Texas, the Governor signed into law SB14, one of the strictest photo ID laws in the country. The State submitted the new law to the Department of Justice for preclearance, and groups immediately came out in droves to urge the Department not to preclear it. Advancement Project, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Asian American Justice Center, Demos, and the Southwest Workers Union, a local Latino organizing and advocacy organization, jointly submitted a comprehensive Comment Letter under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to oppose preclearance of SB14.

  • Diverse groups have come out to object to the preclearance of South Carolina’s photo ID law, R54, as well. One coalition included the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the ACLU, the ACLU of South Carolina, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law (Brennan Center), and the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. After the submission and review of the objections raised by this coalition and others, the Department of Justice was unable to preclear R54 and called for more information from the State.

  • Several groups are also opposing preclearance of Florida’s new voting law, HB 1355 (best known for its extreme restrictions on voter registration), in a Section 5 lawsuit seeking preclearance. The Florida State Conference of NAACP Branches, the Brennan Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the National Council of La Raza, and the League of Women Voters of Florida sought and were granted the right to intervene in this judicial action to enable them to oppose preclearance.

  • We also anticipate broad-based opposition to Mississippi Initiative #27, another restrictive photo ID law that just passed via a ballot initiative in the November 2011 elections. As Mississippi is subject to Section 5 preclearance, this initiative will no doubt be challenged by a similarly diverse group of national and local organizations.

  • To supplement these targeted efforts, the Election Protection Coalition has established a hotline for reporting voting problems, reachable at 1-866-OUR-VOTE. The NAACP and the National Urban League are also running a voter protection hotline: 1-866-MYVote1.
Anti-democratic forces such as ALEC could not have anticipated the mobilization of so many national and local activists fighting to preserve the right to vote. And, they surely have not heard the last of these groups, which will continue to challenge at every juncture their efforts to deny Black and Brown voters the right to vote.

— Judith Browne Dianis, Co-Director, Advancement Project

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