This act flows from a clear and simple wrong. Its only purpose is to right that wrong. Millions of Americans are denied the right to vote because of their color. This law will ensure them the right to vote. The wrong is one which no American, in his heart, can justify. The right is one which no American, true to our principles, can deny.
There were those who said this is an old injustice, and there is no need to hurry. But 95 years have passed since the 15th amendment gave all Negroes the right to vote.
This law covers many pages. But the heart of the act is plain. Wherever, by clear and objective standards, States and counties are using regulations, or laws, or tests to deny the right to vote, then they will be struck down. If it is dear that State officials still intend to discriminate, then Federal examiners will be sent in to register all eligible voters. When the prospect of discrimination is gone, the examiners will be immediately withdrawn.
Fast forward to today. Republican governors are signing bills that would reinstate barriers to the right to vote. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that since 2008, photo ID laws have been enacted in Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that places restrictions on third-party voter registration groups like the League of Women Voters. The new election law shortens the early voting period. The Sun Sentinel reported:
In 2008, more than half of the African-American voters in Florida who participated in the historic election of President Barack Obama did it by voting early.
In the state’s largest counties, with the highest number of black voters, many voters went to the early voting sites on the Sunday before Election Day.
Now, under a new law — passed by a Republican Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott last month — that early voting period has been cut from 14 days to eight days. And the Sunday voting, before Election Day, has been eliminated.
More and more states across the nation are enacting burdensome voter ID bills using general unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and ignoring the disparate impact upon voters who have traditionally been disadvantaged, including minorities, the elderly, youth, low-income Americans and those with disabilities. Additionally, faulty citizenship matching, elimination of voting locations and voter intimidation efforts all place unjust impediments to the fundamental right to vote. National civil rights organizations are joining together to bring attention to the potential impact of such laws and suppression efforts and discuss efforts to fight back and educate voters.
The participants will include:
Rev Jesse L. Jackson Sr., Rainbow PUSH Coalition
Barbara R. Arnwine and Tanya Clay House, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Wade Henderson, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
While members of the Election Protection Coalition work overtime to protect the vote, other groups allegedly are scheming to suppress the vote in the name of “voter fraud.”
Fox News and the New Black Panthers kerfuffle notwithstanding, there have been few cases of voter fraud. Still, election after election, conservative groups the “voter fraud racket” rolls out “election integrity” campaigns.
Tea Party members have started challenging voter registration applications and have announced plans to question individual voters at the polls whom they suspect of being ineligible.
In response, liberal groups and voting rights advocates are sounding an alarm, claiming that such strategies are scare tactics intended to suppress minority and poor voters.
Wendy Weiser, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, told the Times:
Private efforts to police the polls create a real risk of vote suppression, regardless of their intents. People need to know that any form of discrimination, intimidation or challenge to voters without adequate basis is illegal or improper.
I’m all for civic engagement, but voter intimidation is not my cup of tea.
If you encounter a problem at the poll, don’t lose your cool. Keep in mind the following (h/t Eddie Hailes of the Advancement Project):
You have the right to be treated with respect at the polling place, and privacy in your vote. Valid poll watchers can observe what is happening at and inside the polling place, but they cannot speak to you, ask you for ID, or interact directly with you. They cannot watch when you are completing the ballot or being assisted by a person of your choice.
Do not let poll watchers or others outside the polling place interfere with your vote! You do not have to listen to or talk to them, and you should not rely on what they may say about voting rules. They are not election officials and they may be giving out WRONG information.
If you or other voters are being harassed or subject to improper behavior by poll watchers or others at the polling place, tell the nearest election official. You can also get help by calling 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).
Remember, voters whose eligibility is questioned are entitled to vote by provisional ballot.
Make your vote count.
UPDATE: USA Today published my letter to the editor about the perilous state of the machinery of our democracy.
If you plan to vote early or on November 2nd, you need to get ready. The Voting Information Project has developed a free application that will let you find your polling place and other relevant information, including polling hours.