With millions of African-Americans at risk of being ineligible to vote in this year’s presidential election because of strict voter identification laws, a new report released Wednesday explains how civic organizations can help citizens of color obtain the required ID and vote in November.
Thirty-two states have pending laws that call for voters to present government-issued photo identification before casting a ballot. Conservatives insist that the new rules will prevent voter impersonation fraud, but civil rights activists maintain the laws are specifically designed to keep minorities from voting.
The new report, entitled “Got ID? Helping Americans Get Voter Identification,” details the best strategies that community groups are using to help voters adhere to the legal guidelines so they can vote.
“It is vitally important that community leaders, particularly those who work with communities of color, young people, seniors, and people with disabilities take an active role in helping voters acquire the requisite photo ID.” Chris Melody Fields, Election Protection Coordinator at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.
“We hope that this report will be a helpful tool to ensure voters have the documents they need to fully participate in our democracy this November,” Fields said.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to provide legal services to address racial discrimination.
Co-authored by Demos, Common Cause, the Fair Elections Legal Network and the Lawyers’ Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, the report offers the following guidelines:
– Creating a diverse, engaged coalition of local organizations to support a voter outreach program;
– Identifying and reaching eligible voters who do not have the necessary ID;
– Addressing voters’ hurdles to obtaining required ID, such as transportation to DMV offices or the costs of obtaining the necessary underlying documentation like a birth certificate;
– Advocating for legislation to make obtaining the required IDs simpler and easier, including no-cost birth certificates and extended DMV hours.
“As we deal with the reality that there will be vote suppression in the 2012 elections, groups must work together to fight back by helping at-risk voters overcome these barriers to the ballot,” Tova Andrea Wang, Senior Democracy Fellow at Demos, said in a statement. “By helping citizens secure an ID, voting rights groups are stepping up and sending the message to State Legislatures and to Washington that these voices deserve to be heard on Election Day.”
The debate over voter ID laws has become a flashpoint racial issue America leading up to the presidential election in November. Since 2011, several states have enacted voter photo ID laws, including Texas, Wisconsin, Kansas and Pennsylvania.
The Congressional Black Caucus maintains that voter ID laws are designed to discourage minority voters from voting – which would also make it difficult for President Barack Obama to win re-election.
“It is clear to me that whether racially based or not, this is a direct attempt, not only to undermine the election process, but a specific attempt to derail what surely would be and ought to be the re-election of Barack Obama,” Rep. Donna Christensen (D-VI) said on the House floor in January.
In the 2008 presidential election, according to The Washington Post, about 12,000 residents in Virginia did not have IDs when they cast their ballots. More than 3 million Virginians voted in November, but in a close election, the newspaper said, those voters could decide the outcome of a race. Today, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, Obama’s GOP opponent, are deadlocked. According to a CBS News/New York Times poll released Wednesday, Obama and Romney are tied with 46 percent.
Meanwhile, with the Obama campaign predicting a very close race, authors of the new voter ID report say they hope their information gets to the citizens who need it most.
“Some of our nation’s governors and state legislators are engaged in a disgraceful effort to keep millions of student, elderly, disabled and minority voters from exercising their rights this November,” said Jenny Rose Flanagan, director of voting and elections for Common Cause. “This report gives Americans the tools they need to fight back and make their voices heard.”