87 Voting and Civil Rights Groups Urge State Election Officials to Prevent Voting Discrimination and Disruption

For Immediate Release

87 Voting and Civil Rights Groups Urge State Election Officials to Prevent Voting Discrimination and Disruption

WASHINGTON - Amid threats of Election Day intimidation, 87 national civil rights and voting rights groups are urging state election officials to create plans to prevent voting discrimination in advance of the first presidential election in 50 years without a fully operable Voting Rights Act.

In letters sent to state election officials in every state, the groups cite their concern with the loss of Section 5 of the VRA, writing “Since Congress has failed to pass a bill to restore the VRA, which has resulted in DOJ’s lacking authority over voting changes in places that Congress determined in 2006 should continue to have federal oversight, we are extremely concerned that there will be widespread voter discrimination in the upcoming presidential election.”

To blunt the impact of voting discrimination, these organizations are engaging in a massive litigation effort and an election protection campaign to protect voters at the polls. Efforts to turn back several statewide discriminatory voter laws in the courts have been effective, but voters have very little protection from local election changes, the misapplication and misunderstanding of new voting restrictions by poll workers, or threats of intimidation from polling place vigilantes. 

“The loss of Section 5 and the most racially bigoted presidential campaign in generations has created a perfect storm for voter intimidation and voter discrimination,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “State election officials must address these unprecedented threats head on by creating and publicizing clear plans to prevent intimidation and discrimination, and to make it unequivocally clear to the voters they serve that the elections they oversee will be safe, fair, and free from intimidation, violence, and discrimination.”

A press call to discuss these efforts will begin at 10:30 a.m. ET today.Dial-in: 877-876-9173. Verbal Passcode: “Election.” RSVPs requested to Simpson@civilrights.org.

The full letter is below and linked here.

October 24, 2016

Dear Secretary of State:

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, and the 86 undersigned organizations, we write to express our grave concern over the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). We urge you to develop a plan to ensure that no one in your state is disenfranchised in the upcoming election.

As you know, the VRA protected the voting rights of racial and ethnic minorities in several states and local jurisdictions where they had been historically discriminated against in voting. These jurisdictions were covered by Section 5 of the VRA, which required the Department of Justice (DOJ) to approve any changes to voting in specific states and localities. However, in 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court’s devastating decision in Shelby County v. Holder negated the pre-clearance requirement and the DOJ’s authority to send observers to covered jurisdictions. Following Shelby, numerous states have passed voting laws, which several federal courts agree have a disparate impact on people of color and language minorities. In the case of North Carolina, for example, the courts found that the state’s massive bundle of voting restrictions, passed within weeks of the Shelby decision, targeted African Americans “with almost surgical precision.”[1] Evidence shows that restrictive voter laws also suppress turnout of the elderly, [2] people with disabilities, [3] and students. [4]

And while some courts have taken action to block discriminatory laws in states like North Carolina and Texas, these decisions came only after years of costly litigation during which impacted citizens were blocked from voting in the 2014 elections and this year’s primaries. Meanwhile, there is no way of knowing how many potentially discriminatory voting changes are being made by cities, counties, school boards, water boards and other local jurisdictions that were previously required to be precleared. According to “Democracy Diminished,”[5] a report by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., “more than 85% of preclearance work previously done under Section 5 was at the local level.”

Since Congress has failed to pass a bill to restore the VRA, which has resulted in DOJ’s lacking authority over voting changes in places that Congress determined in 2006 should continue to have federal oversight, we are extremely concerned that there will be widespread voter discrimination in the upcoming presidential election. This is exacerbated by the fact that there will be no DOJ observers holding jurisdictions accountable. In the 2012 general election, the Department of Justice sent 780 federal observers to 51 jurisdictions in 23 states. [6] Following the Shelby decision, DOJ has said it will not deploy election observers in 2016. The potentially detrimental effect of the absence of this critical voter protection tool cannot be overstated. [7]

Given the many recent examples of post-Shelby voting discrimination, we urge you to be vigilant regarding potential voter disenfranchisement in your state this November.

Sincerely,

9to5, National Association of Working Women

A. PHILIP RANDOLPH INSTITUTE

AFL-CIO

African American Ministers In Action (AAMIA)

American Association of People with Disabilities

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

American Civil Liberties Union

American Constitution Society for Law and Policy

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees

American Federation of Teachers

American Jewish Committee (AJC)

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

Americans for Democratic Action (ADA)

Anti-Defamation League

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)

Asian Americans Advancing Justice - AAJC

Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote)

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Bend the Arc Jewish Action

Black Women's Roundtable

Black Youth Vote!

Brennan Center for Justice

Campaign Legal Center

The Center for Popular Democracy

Center for Women Policy Studies

Democracy Initiative

Demos

Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund

Feminist Majority

Franciscan Action Network

Friends of the Earth - United States

Human Rights Campaign

Human Rights First

IAWRTUSA

Institute for Science and Human Values

Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Jobs With Justice

LatinoJustice PRLDEF

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

League of Women Voters of the United States

MALDEF

MoveOn.org

NAACP

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

NAACP-National Voter Fund

NALEO Educational Fund

National Action Network's Washington Bureau

National Asian Pacific American Bar Association

National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum

National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO)

National Association of Social Workers

National Center for Transgender Equality

National Coalition on Black Civic Participation

National Congress of American Indians

National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA)

National Council of Churches

National Council of Jewish Women

National Education Association

National LGBTQ Task Force

National Urban League

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates

OWL-The Voice of Women 40+

People For the American Way Foundation

People's Action

Project Vote

Public Citizen

Rock the Vote

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Sikh American Legal Defense & Education Fund (SALDEF)

Southern Coalition for Social Justice

Southern Poverty Law Center

U.S. Women and Cuba Collaboration

Union for Reform Judaism

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union

US Human Rights Network

Vote.org

The Voter Participation Center

VoteRiders

Voting Rights Forward

The Voting Rights Institute

Voto Latino

Women's Research & Education Institute

World Without Genocide at Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Young People For, a program of the People For the American Way Foundation

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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States. Through advocacy and outreach to targeted constituencies, The Leadership Conference works toward the goal of a more open and just society – an America as good as its ideals.

The Leadership Conference is a 501(c)(4) organization that engages in legislative advocacy.  It was founded in 1950 and has coordinated national lobbying efforts on behalf of every major civil rights law since 1957.

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