Fifteen days before Election Day, the 1-866-MYVOTE-1 Voter Empowerment Hotline is shifting from primarily voter registration to a valuable tool to help callers report voter suppression and other potential problems with the support of the nationwide nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition’s 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline.
To help voters if they need any assistance voting or to get help if they face any form of suppression, the organizers of the hotline are getting the support of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Election Protection that will provide voters assistance from fully-trained volunteers based in more than 28 call centers across the country and through its website www.866OURVOTE.org.
“The reality is that since the Florida debacle in 2000, we’ve seen deliberate, systematic voter suppression tactics targeted at African Americans and Latinos,” Barbara Arnwine, President and Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, told BlackAmericaWeb.com. “We learned that this wasn’t a one-time occurrence but a full-time feature in the voting landscape.”
This year, Arnwine said, voter suppression tactics by conservatives have hit a new low: Some black and Latino voters have been told recently that if they are found guilty of voter fraud, their children will be taken away from them.
“It’s vicious, deliberate and ugly,” Arnwine said.
Between now and Nov. 6, callers will be assisted seven days a week to get help with any problems they may encounter trying to vote. Since the beginning of the year, the 1-866-MYVOTE-1 hotline has helped voters get local voter registration forms, transfer to county election offices and leave up to a 60 second message.
But with more than 33 states passing voter identification laws, there is widespread expectation that voters will face unprecedented barriers to exercising their right to vote.
“As suppressive voting laws continue to sweep the country, most affecting traditionally disenfranchised communities, the work of Election Protection and the other resources remain critical,” Arnwine said.
“Together, we will continue to guide voters through the voting process and help with any voting challenges, ensuring that all eligible voters have the opportunity to exercise the fundamental right to vote, ” she added.
Two weeks before voters go to the polls, President Barack Obama and Republican opponent Mitt Romney will square off again Monday in the final face-to-face debate before Election Day. Most polls are still showing the race as neck-in-neck with Obama showing a slight lead in several swing states.
Obama campaign strategists, however, said the Nov. 6 election could be the closest presidential election in history and could come down to a few states like Ohio, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina.
Arnwine says she just wants to ensure that Americans who want to vote, get a fair opportunity to vote. Arnwine’s Election Protection is the nation's largest nonpartisan voter protection coalition, led by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The coalition has more than 100 partners, including the National Urban League, NAACP, the National Urban League, National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Common Cause, the Brennan Center for Justice, Advancement Project, State Voices, National Bar Association, Native Vote, Asian-American Justice Center, National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Education Fund and Rock the Vote.
Arnwine said her organization is currently fighting against the widespread voter ID laws that are being sanctioned by conservative groups. More than 33 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 biggest problem out there now is voter confusion,” Arnwine said in an interview with BlackAmericaWeb.com.
Arnwine said many minority voters are already receiving phony voting-related information ranging from the wrong date for the presidential election to giving voters wrong addresses to their polling places.
Officials in Arizona, for example, mistakenly listed the general election date as Nov. 8, not Nov. 6, in the Spanish translation of an "official government document. The document was attached to updated voter registration cards that voters had requested.
“It’s an honest mistake. Between the time the voter [who caught the mistake] came in to our front counter to get her card and we were notified of the error, the mistake had been corrected,” Yvonne Reed, spokesperson for the Maricopa County Department of Elections, told ABC News.
Meanwhile, Arnwine also said her organization is experiencing a new, insidious voter suppression problem: Billboards are now popping up in black and Latino neighborhoods in Ohio and Wisconsin that feature a large gavel and reads: “VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY.” The billboards say that voter the fraud is punishable by 3 ½ years in jail and a $10,000 fine.
“We haven’t seen this before. They have stepped-up additional voter suppression schemes in 2012,” Arnwine said. “These billboards are going up near public housing projects [in minority neighborhoods] and it’s causing massive voter confusion.”
Arnwine said some people of color are telling officials they don’t plan to vote because they are afraid they’ll be arrested for voter fraud.
“Nobody is taking responsibility for these billboards,” Arnwine said. “They are being posted anonymously.”
To counter the bogus billboards, Arnwine said, her organization has purchased its own billboards to offer residents correct voter information.
The first billboards in the Election Protection campaign were activated last week in Milwaukee and Cleveland. Coalition leaders said additional billboards will follow this week in those cities, along with Columbus and Cincinnati, and that they expect the campaign to expand between now and Election Day.
About three dozen of the coalition billboards will be placed initially in the same predominately Latino and African American neighborhoods where a series of menacing billboards, warning of prison terms and hefty fines for anyone engaged in voter fraud, went up last week. Clear Channel, the owner of the billboards, says those messages were financed by a “family foundation” that insists on remaining anonymous.
“The best way to stand up to this despicable form of voter intimidation is for the communities affected to turn out and vote in large numbers,” Arnwine said. “The Lawyers’ Committee and our partners put these billboards up to let voters know that they are free to vote without fear and we have their backs if they have any questions or problems.”
Election Protection’s toll-free hotlines, 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683) for English and 1-888-VE-VOTA (1-888-839-8682) for Spanish, are available to any voters who need information, assistance or guidance in understanding their rights.
It is open to the entire voting public, but targets historically disenfranchised communities, including: African Americans, Asian Pacific American, Latinos, Native Americans, and other racially and ethnically diverse communities; seniors; young people; low-income voters; and individuals with disabilities.
In 2012, Election Protection legal leaders, community partners, and organizations focused on building long-term civic infrastructure are implementing a three-pronged strategy to: fight voter suppression legislation and dent the myths that voter fraud requires such legislation; implement a year-round program to protect and enable full access to the vote; and advocate for needed systemic election reform.
The Election Protection also offers a “Map of Shame” which tells voters where voter suppression laws were introduced, passed, defeated and vetoed.
“We’re seeing more national counter-moves to destroy the power of the vote,” Arnwine said, “so a number of organizations have come together to be pro-active and protect voters’ rights.”