With the right to vote "more vulnerable now than at any time in the past 50 years," an American civil rights coalition is calling for an increase in international election monitors during the 2016 election.
In a letter sent this weekend, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, comprised of more than 200 national organizations, urged the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to expand its election monitoring mission in the United States this November.
The body has sent observers to every U.S. presidential election since 2002 and intends to send 500 observers for 2016.
However, citing the 2013 gutting of the Voting Rights Act (VRA)—as well as recent news that as a result of the decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the U.S. Justice Department is scaling back its deployment of election observers in 2016—the group wrote "to emphasize that the OSCE's plans to monitor the upcoming U.S. presidential election will be more essential than ever before and to encourage the OSCE to greatly expand its election monitoring mission in the United States for this election."
The letter read:
A confluence of factors has made the right to vote more vulnerable to racial discrimination than at any time in recent history. The need for additional election observers is paramount. The unprecedented weakening of the Voting Rights Act has led to a tidal wave of voter discrimination efforts nationwide and has required the United States to drastically scale back its own election monitoring program. In addition, a leading presidential candidate who has made the demonization of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities a hallmark of his campaign has recently urged supporters to challenge voters at polling sites nationwide.
The latter line refers to Republican nominee Donald Trump's recent calls for supporters not only to vote on November 8, but also to "go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it's 100 percent fine."
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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights calls on the OSCE specifically "to target its resources to states that have adopted discriminatory restrictions or will likely see enhanced voter intimidation efforts, including places like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Arizona, Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Texas."
Common Dreams has reported extensively on state efforts to restrict voting rights in the wake of the Shelby decision—and on the court rulings that show those attempts to be discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Just this week, voting rights advocates won a significant victory in Wisconsin, when federal appeals court panel blocked a request to stay a lower court ruling that outlawed Republican-sponsored voting restrictions—"effectively ensur[ing]," as Slate put it, "that Wisconsin's most burdensome new voting laws will not be in effect during the 2016 election, unless the Supreme Court intervenes—an extremely remote possibility."
Still, the letter from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights notes:
A nationwide litigation effort since the Shelby decision has sought to blunt the tidal wave of voter discrimination laws that were enacted by states and cities. Recent court victories turning back a few of these laws have proven that these efforts are widespread, require massive investments of time and money to litigate, and intentionally discriminate against voters of color. It took years of litigation to strike down intentionally discriminatory laws, meaning countless voters have already been denied the right to cast ballots in the 2014 mid-term election and in this year's presidential primaries. And efforts to ensure that local election officials are complying with those court orders is one important aspect of election observation.
Indeed, said the group's president and CEO Wade Henderson: "We now have to fight in the courts and at ballot box for every voter and even our nation's best and most well-organized efforts will not meet the demand we're confronted with. Congress needs to restore the VRA immediately."