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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Coalition Mobilizing Against Election Day Voter Suppression

At The Nation, Ari Berman has an update on the preparations to resist Republican-driven voter suppression at the polls on November 6, specifically the efforts of the Election Protection coalition to insure a fair election. Berman explains:

The Election Protection coalition plans to recruit 10,000 volunteers to assist at the polls during early voting and on election day in twenty states, particularly in high-turnout minority voting areas and historically disenfranchised communities. It will staff thirty-two call centers in English and Spanish through its 866-Our-Vote hotline. This conference room will be one of them.
The Election Protection coalition, spearheaded by the Lawyers’ Committee and including groups like the NAACP and Common Cause, was launched after the 2000 election fiasco in Florida. “A lot of folks in the voting rights and civil rights community realized you couldn’t wait until election day to solve issues,” says Eric Marshall, co-leader of Election Protection.

In Virginia, for example, draconian voter i.d. laws designed to suppress pro-Democratic constituencies could actually influence the election. As Berman reports:

In the past, a Virginia voter lacking ID could sign an affidavit attesting to his or her identity and cast a regular ballot. Now that voter must cast a provisional ballot, which will count only if the voter presents proof of ID to the board of elections by noon on the Friday after election day. This change could disenfranchise the 15,000 Virginians who cast a ballot without ID in 2008– which could affect the outcome in one of the nation’s most hotly contested swing states. The proliferation of provisional ballots could also delay the election results. “Can you imagine the presidential election not being called until Friday because of some hang-up in Virginia?” asks Tram Nguyen, associate director of Virginia New Majority, a progressive advocacy group.
“I can pretty much guarantee on the morning of election day we’re going to have numerous poll workers in Virginia giving out the wrong information on identification,” says Dara Lindenbaum, an associate counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee. The average American poll worker is 72, often receives minimal training and is not always up to speed on last-minute election law changes. Lindenbaum was in Hampton Roads on election day 2008, where voters encountered four-hour lines because of broken voting machines and record turnout.

The coalition expects to see plenty of Republican advocates creating confusion at the polls:

n addition to voter suppression laws, this year Election Protection organizers will face another threat: the Tea Party group True the Vote and its local affiliates, which claim to be recruiting a million “poll watchers” to challenge voters they believe are ineligible to vote. In practice, that’s going to mean a lot of conservative white activists stationed outside the polls in heavily Democratic minority neighborhoods, a sure-fire recipe for voter intimidation and harassment. That dynamic is especially troubling in a state like Virginia, where minorities make up 30 percent of the electorate and three out of four new residents are people of color.
Challenger laws date back to the 1870s in states like Virginia, when segregationists challenged the right to cast a ballot of newly emancipated African-Americans. They are still on the books in at least eight battleground states. “Of the 39 states that allow polling place challenges, only 15 require poll challengers to provide some documentation to support their claim that the challenged voter is ineligible,” reports the Brennan Center for Justice. In Florida, for example, any challenged voter must cast a provisional ballot (in 2008, 2.1 million provisional ballots were cast nationally; 69 percent were counted). In Virginia, the challenge must be in writing, and challenged voters may cast a regular ballot if they sign an affidavit affirming their identity.
Outside groups are not allowed in polling places, but representatives of the parties are, so True the Vote is urging its members to become GOP poll watchers, which could increase the likelihood of voter challenges. Often these challenges are based on little more than racial profiling. Videos have recently surfaced of True the Vote activists giving inaccurate training to prospective poll workers falsely claiming, in states like New Mexico, for example, that voters must show ID. “They’re enforcing the law of their gut rather than the law on the books,” says Levitt. “That’s what vigilante squads do, and their hit rates are pretty bad.”

Despite the most extensive voter suppression campaign in history, Berman notes that the Obama campaign “has more than thirty paid staffers working on voter protection in a dozen battleground states,” along with thousands of legal volunteers. It appears that their efforts may determine, not only the election outcome, but the future of America.

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