Civil Rights Coalitions Take on Republican Vote Suppression

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As Republican-controlled state governments in Wisconsin, Florida, and Georgia push to limit voting rights for low-income voters and people of color, civil rights groups are fighting back.

The Florida ACLU and other rights activists have sued their state in federal court, asking a judge to strike down onerous provisions in a state law that creates new obstacles for many Floridians – from seniors to minorities – to vote.

In Georgia, a coalition of organizations are also going to court to protect the right to vote. The coalition accuses the state of failing to provide voter registration services in state public assistance offices as mandated by the National Voter Registration Act.

“The State of Georgia has been ignoring its responsibilities under the NVRA for too many years,” said Nicole Zeitler, director of the Public Agency Voter Registration program at Project Vote. “The result is that thousands of low-income Georgians have been denied the opportunity to register to vote.”

The federal law requires all state public assistance offices to distribute a voter registration application each time a client applies for benefits or fills out a change of address form.

The civil rights groups argue that Georgia has ignored the requirement for about 15 years.

Immediately after the law was passed, state public assistance offices received more than 100,000 registration applications. Last year, however, the number of registrations had dropped to 4,430.

This doesn't mean that so few people applied for public assistance. In the depth of the recession in 2009, the state received nearly 70,000 applications each month for the food stamps program alone, which is covered by the federal voter registration law.

Simply put, tens of thousands of people who should have been given the materials to register to vote were not given those forms.

Surveys conducted at selected public assistance offices throughout Georgia also revealed that applicants for public assistance were not given the proper voter registration forms.

Bob Kengle, co-director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Voting Rights Project, said in a press statement, “Georgia public officials must take seriously their legal responsibility to provide voter registration services to the State’s public assistance clients."

“Congress required that public assistance offices serve as voter registration agencies to ensure that low income persons, who historically have been disenfranchised, are given a periodic opportunity to register to vote or update their existing voter registration,” he added.    

Apparently, the state says its policy is that when an applicant for public assistance declines to register to vote they aren't offered voter registration forms again. This policy violates the law, the civil rights coalition argues.

Some state officials have admitted publicly that state voter registration practices are not in line with the law, though no attempts have been made by the Republican-controlled state government to end these violations.

“We had hoped to remedy the lack of NVRA enforcement without filing a lawsuit, but voting rights are too important to put on hold,” said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project.

The lawsuit asks that the state of Georgia comply with federal voting laws, train its employees to provide the correct assistance on voter registration to applicants, and to track voter registration data in a transparent manner.

Similarly successful lawsuits in Missouri and Ohio forced those states to comply with federal law, allowing hundreds of thousands of low-income residents in those states to register to vote.

Critics of vote suppression tactics in Georgia, Florida and Wisconsin say these Republican-controlled state governments do so to protect their majorities in government by pushing low-income, minority, and seniors off the voter rolls.

Photo by Napalm filled tires/cc by 2.0/ Flickr

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  • The myth of poor and working people's rampant voting fraud among the right and center powers is very strong throughout the country, especially in Missouri.
    At the polls themselves, the right wing is careful to dominate, despite laws to the contrary. For example, although it is not necessary to have state ID to vote, election officials turn people away who do not have ID to present.
    Recently in an election, the present writer had to go to the main election board office, during an election, to get Republicans(with the tacit approval of Democrats) to remove signs which stated that if one had no ID, one could not vote.
    A system of supervision, reportage and on the spot action has to be put in place in elections so working class people can verify their votes.
    The extreme right and right wing powers, full of the hatred to deny working people, women and people of color the vote, as they have for centuries, want to nullify the power shown in 2008, of the united people's will to save our country's democracy.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 06/14/2011 10:29am (6 years ago)

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