18 Sep 2012
September 18, 2012

#DNC2012 Voting Rights Institute

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Convention days were filed with caucus and other Democratic group meetings, including a meeting of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute on Sept. 6, 2012.  We are happy to feature a guest column by Susan Dosier, a communications specialist who attended the meeting.

 The Democratic Party and A Host of Voter Groups Needs Volunteers To Help Fight Against Attacks On Voter Rights

Donna Brazile kicks off Voting Rights Panel (photo credit – Steve Bunn)

A line-up of political rock stars, including actress America Ferrera, Donna Brazile, Congressman Steny Hoyer,  Georgia Representative John Lewis, MSNBC talk show host Melissa Harris Perry, and others gathered to focus on what many at the Convention still find incredulous: the narrowing of criteria that allow Americans to vote.

At issue: 25 percent of Americans don’t have a government-issued ID. (Several new laws require as multiple forms of identification in order for someone to register to vote.)  For example, in Texas, you can register to vote with an National Rifle Association permit, but the state will not accept a photo ID from a community college.

Melissa Harris Perry moderated a panel with leaders who are working in each of their constituent groups (African Americans, organized labor, youth, Latinos, and more) to help the audience understand what’s happening, what’s being done, and how they can help.  Many of the restrictive voting laws passed target African-Americans, Hispanics, young voters, seniors, and people with disabilities.

“I’ve never seen anything like this!” Donna Brazile told the group. The same sentiment was heard from many in the room.

Many organizations and groups are actively responding, including the NAACP, organized labor, and Americans With Disabilities.

Rock the Vote, the largest youth registration organization in America, will register 1 ½ million new voters this year. “I wake up every morning,” says Rock the Vote President Heather Smith, “And I know that 12,500 Americans are turning 18 that day.”  Smith noted that many schools don’t have “civics education” classes where youth are encouraged to register and educated. In fact, 22 states have cut funding for civics education. The changing voter ID laws also preclude many college students from voting on their campus because they hold a driver’s license from another state or because their student ID doesn’t have an expiration date.  Smith shared that with the changing laws, 84 percent of college students in Pennsylvania don’t have the ID required to cast their vote in that state. She believes the youth vote has been targeted by extreme conservative groups because they tipped the balance in the last election.

With US Census data indicating that about 50,000 Latinos will turn 18 each month this year,“Ugly Betty” actress and Emmy winner America Ferrera has been on the stump encouraging Latinos to vote. She said a new Latino voter app will premier in the next few days that will make it easier for Latinos to know what’s required in each state.  “We have such enormous power in our youth, and technology is changing the game,” Ferrera said. “We need to take responsibility for the rights of the community.  It’s not a Latino issue or African American issue. It’s an AMERICAN issue.” [VotoLatino.org]

Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO, says the states that have seen collective bargaining come up as an issue (Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, and Michigan) have also seen laws that limit voter access. [here is the AFL-CIO voting rights site]

Frank Leone, delegate from Virginia, a member of the Democratic National Committee, is a lawyer active in poll work; he blogs at DemRulz.org.  After the session closed, he summarized the call to action at the back of the conference room.  “There are four steps. We fight it (voter restrictions) in the legislature, litigate in the courts, educate people about how to comply, and offer election day assistance. Those are the four pillars. We have to tell people, “You have to have your utility bill (if that’s what their state requires).” Every state’s laws are different, and they’ve changed in the last four years. People need someone at the polls to help them. Some poll workers don’t want people to vote.”

Other resources and ways to get involved:

DNC Voting Rights Institute

www.GOTTAVOTE.org – one-stop shop with action items; here’s, voters can register and find out what is needed for registration and at the polls in every state.

Lawyers and legal professionals are needed to be poll observers on election day. Register at the Victory Counsel

Poll workers are needed. To volunteer, contact local election officials. There is an exceptional need for both poll workers and observers who can speak Spanish. The time to volunteer is now.  For example, early voting in North Carolina starts October 18 (www.ncvoterinfo.org).

[For Virginians – just register at the Victory Counsel site – we will be in contact.]

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