ACLU Urges US to Address Voting Rights for Minorities

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Robyn Shepherd, (212) 519-7829 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org

ACLU Urges US to Address Voting Rights for Minorities

Recommendations Presented at Annual United Nations Forum

NEW YORK - The American Civil Liberties Union today urged the U.S. government to
address lingering obstacles to voting rights for minorities, including
enforcing anti-discrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act and
eliminating barriers to vote based on criminal records. The
recommendations were presented at the annual United Nations Forum on
Minority Issues, which this year focused on political participation.

The
ACLU submission includes analysis and recommendations to end felony
disfranchisement, the practice of denying the right to vote to
individuals with felony convictions, which has a serious and
disproportionate effect on the voting power of minority communities.
Laws vary in severity from state to state, but taken together legally
bar more than 5 million Americans from voting. A lack of clarity and
public education leads many more formerly incarcerated individuals to
incorrectly believe they are disfranchised. The over-representation of
people of color in the criminal justice system - resulting from
punitive sentencing policies, the over-policing of communities of color
and other factors - leads people and communities of color to suffer
disproportionally from this barrier to voting. In its submission, the
ACLU calls on Congress to pass the Democracy Restoration Act of 2009, a
bill that would restore voting rights in federal elections to millions
of Americans who continue to be denied their ability to fully
participate in civic life.

The ACLU also presented findings from a recent report - Voting Rights in Indian Country
- which documents continued discriminatory policies and actions against
American Indians that deny them their constitutional right to vote. The
report provides a historical overview of systemic discrimination
against American Indians by limiting their ability to participate in
local, state and national elections and highlights ACLU litigation
challenging unlawful election practices on behalf of Indians. The
report exposed electoral systems that dilute Indian voting strength,
discriminatory voter registration procedures, onerous voter
identification requirements, lack of language assistance at the polls
and noncompliance with the Voting Rights Act.

The
U.N. Forum on Minority Issues is an annual gathering that takes place
in Geneva, Switzerland and provides a platform for promoting dialogue
and cooperation on issues pertaining to national, ethnic, religious and
linguistic minorities and makes recommendations on steps to promote
minority rights worldwide. This year, the Forum will be chaired by U.S.
Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) and will include over 400
participants.

The following can be attributed to Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program:

"The
U.S. government has historically failed to protect the voting rights of
people with felony convictions, residents of certain geographic
territories and the millions of voters who continue to be disfranchised
due to their race or ethnicity. The U.S. cannot consider itself a model
democracy while so many of its citizens are denied the human right to
participate in the political process. The Obama administration has
thankfully committed to fully enforcing the Voting Rights Act. This is
an important first step in removing the barriers to the fundamental
human right to vote and ensuring the effective participation of
minority communities in the democratic process."

The following can be attributed to Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project:

"No public interest is served by making persons who commit crimes permanent political outcasts.  Restoring
voting rights is an important step in rehabilitation and reducing rates
of recidivism. Though the movement for equal rights has led to dramatic
gains for Indian voters and transformed elected bodies that serve
Indian communities, much work remains. Well into the 20th century,
American Indians' status as U.S. citizens was questioned across the
U.S. and they continue to struggle against ongoing disfranchisement and
discriminatory election practices that prevent them from participating
equally in the political process."

The following can attributed to Rachel Bloom, advocacy coordinator with the ACLU Racial Justice Program:

"Felony
disfranchisement is devastating, not only for minority individuals but
also for entire minority communities. Incarcerated individuals tend to
come from - and return to - a relatively small number of low-income,
under-resourced communities of color, so entire communities suffer the
consequences of fewer eligible voters and reduced political power. As
such, felony disfranchisement policies constitute a serious barrier to
political participation for minorities in the United States."

The ACLU submission to the U.N. Forum on Minority Issues is available here:
www.aclu.org/human-rights-voting-rights/aclu-submission-un-forum-minority-issues-human-rights-council-second-sess

The ACLU report, Voting Rights in Indian Country, is available here: www.aclu.org/pdfs/votingrights/indiancountryreport.pdf

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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

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