Is there a “state of emergency” over voting rights in America? That was the declaration of a coalition of civil rights, faith-based and social justice organizations and groups representing communities of color in a conference call on Wednesday, just in time for National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 25. They sounded the alarm about voter-ID laws, early voting restrictions and other obstacles they say stand in the way of full participation of every citizen.
The purpose of the call was not just to explain “why these laws are detrimental to the cause of democracy and to the fundamental constitutional right that we all have to vote in this nation,” said Marc Morial, National Urban League president and CEO, but also “to inform people across the nation about steps they need to take to insure that their precious right to vote is protected” this fall and beyond.
Rebekah Spicuglia of the Applied Research Center, a racial justice think tank, and Miles Rapoport, president of Demos, a policy and advocacy center, discussed what they said are voter intimidation tactics by groups such as True the Vote that monitor polling places for irregularities, with a stated goal of preventing voter fraud. (In The Washington Post, Cathy Kelleher, a Maryland real estate agent who started poll watching and voter-roll inspection efforts after getting involved with True the Vote in 2011, said, “We’re there so people don’t try to do anything fishy.”)
“Watching and following are not race-neutral verbs in our nation’s history,” Spicuglia said on Wednesday. “This is an intimidation tactic that is going to be in full force at the polls.” Demos and Common Cause have issued a “Bullies at the Ballot Box” report that details what is permissible and legal when it comes to challenging a voter’s eligibility, both before and on Election Day and inside and outside the polling place.
“At some point we will be beyond the point where you can sustain any further challenges to the law,” said Morial. Fighting the fear and confusion that might make some voters just give up, the rights groups have united with one goal, he said. “We want to help people get everything they need in order to be able to participate.”