March planned to fight voter restrictions


standforfreedom.jpgLegislative Gazette – A newly formed coalition will hold a major rally in front of the United Nations building in New York on Dec. 10 to protest a number of voting restrictions they say are unfairly restricting the rights of eligible citizens.

Representatives from nearly 20 civil rights, labor and community groups convened on Nov. 8 to announce the December march and the formation of the “Stand for Freedom” voting rights campaign, the goal of which is to draw attention to new voting legislation in states around the country they say is prejudiced against minorities, women and senior citizens.

Dec. 10 is United Nations Human Rights Day, on which a group headed by the NAACP and 1199 SEIU will lead a march to Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, across from the United Nations building. They will then hold a rally protesting what they characterize as an “assault on voting rights.”

The announcement was made on the steps of City Hall in New York City by a group headed by NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, 1199 SEIU President George Gresham, Rep. Charlie Rangel, the Rev. Al Sharpton, and National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial.

“We are in the midst of the greatest coordinated legislative attack on voting rights since the dawn of Jim Crow,” said Jealous. “Voter ID laws are nothing but reincarnated poll taxes and literacy tests, and ex-felon voting bans serve the same purpose today as when they were created in the wake of the Fifteenth Amendment guaranteeing ex-slaves the vote – suppressing voting numbers among people of color.”

Many states have already passed or have proposed legislation that critics say will greatly reduce voter turnout in 2012 and beyond, particularly among minority and low-income citizens.

These include requirements that photo identification be shown before a vote can be cast, documentation that many minority and low-income citizens do not possess and cannot afford to obtain.

Some have characterized this as a modern-day poll tax. According to the NYU Brennan Center for Justice, more than 30 states are considering or have considered instituting such a measure. Five states – Wisconsin, Texas, Tennessee, Kansas and South Carolina – have already passed legislation with voter identification requirements.

A recent study from Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law indicated that approximately 21 million Americans who have the right to vote do not possess photo ID. Meanwhile, 38 states including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware have considered voter ID legislation.

“National Action Network and I see the assault on voters with Voter ID laws, the end of early voting, and other measures as a blatant attempt to undermine the Voter Rights Act,” said Sharpton. “The nation cannot honor Dr. King and undo his work at the same time. We will fight it in the courts and in the streets.”

States have also scaled back voter registration drives, early voting and Sunday voting, and restricted the ability of convicted felons to vote once they are released from prison.

Proponents of these laws say that they are a necessary tool against voter fraud, a notion that was scoffed at during the announcement of the “Stand for Freedom” coalition.

“The so called problem of voter fraud is a myth, the percentage is miniscule,” said George Gresham, president of 1199 SEIU. ”These new laws are suddenly being pushed after the historic 2008 presidential election when Americans headed to the polls in droves. Now as we prepare for the 2012 elections, it’s difficult to believe that this isn’t some kind of ploy to keep poor people, working people, or people of color away from the polls.“ 

“The changes to elections laws that are sweeping the nation aren’t about preventing voter fraud, they are voter fraud,” added New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy and we should be working together to protect the ability of all Americans to exercise their right to vote.”

“There are outcries of voter fraud but very few actual reported instances of voter fraud,” said Asian-American Legal Defense and Education Fund Executive Director Margaret Fung, who also expressed discontent at a number of incidents in which Asian-American voters have been asked to show identification before voting in New York City. ”We don’t want any more voter ID laws passed in other states…we also want to make sure that existing laws are enforced properly so someone isn’t asked for an ID just because of the way they look…I think that’s discrimination.”

There is fear that the new laws will further drive voters away from the polls in a country where less than two-thirds of the eligible population voted in the last presidential election.

A diverse collection of groups has united to join the fight against what they say is unfair discrimination against voters. Representatives from the NAACP, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the United Federation of Teachers, Planned Parenthood, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and other organizations were also present for the announcement.

Common Cause/NY also announced their support for the coalition and stated that representatives from their organization would be present at the Dec. 10 march. They advocate amending the state Constitution to allow New York voters to cast their vote either in person or through an absentee ballot without giving a reason for doing so, as well as passage of early voting, which they said in a release is “both convenient and efficient,” and an elimination of voter ID laws.

Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause/NY, said the coalition is working to “build public awareness of the significant impact on our right to vote that we’re seeing across the country” and that it is important that as many voters as possible participate in the election process.

“We have a very low turnout in this country. People are disengaged from the election process and what we’ve done in many places administratively is throwing up unnecessary barriers making it harder to vote,” Lerner continued. “There’s no good reason to make it more difficult to vote.

“For us, it’s not a question of a party advantage. It’s a question of ensuring that our democracy functions well and that all Americans know they have the right and the ability to exercise their franchise,” Lerner said.

By Daniel MnDonough

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