Virginia Ministers: Make Every Vote Count

Group praises Election Protection and urges 2-minute message by ministers; Project to offer lawyers hotline, ‘voters’ bill of rights’ and precinct monitors

(RICHMOND, VA) – With an eye toward Virginia’s November 6 election, a group of ministers gathered in Richmond to announce their commitment to support Election Protection, a nonpartisan program designed to educate voters, encourage participation and safeguard voters’ legal and constitutional rights. The ministers vowed to support the project’s activities and also urged fellow ministers to devote at least two minutes this weekend to emphasize the importance of voting to their congregations.

The Election Protection project—first initiated in the June 19 special election in Virginia’s 4th Congressional District—was widely praised for helping to educate voters in low-participation communities and work cooperatively with election officials to solve any problems that voters encounter. The project is co-sponsored by People For the American Way Foundation, the NAACP National Voter Fund, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Voices of the Electorate, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund and the Baptist General Convention of Virginia.

This November’s Election Protection activities will include distributing a "voters’ bill of rights" palm card, educating voters through radio and newspaper ads, using "sound trucks" and door-to-door canvassing to encourage voter participation, and operating a toll-free lawyers hotline for voters. In addition, Election Protection monitors will cover nearly four times as many precincts as the project did in June. These monitors will distribute the "voters’ bill of rights" and respond to voters’ concerns.

This morning, several ministers praised the project and voiced their commitment to support Election Protection. The Rev. Cessar Scott, executive minister of the Baptist General Convention of Virginia, reported that ministers of various denominations and faiths have already begun working in support of Election Protection, including distributing materials and participating in training.

"The struggle during the 1950s and ’60s to secure voting rights for African Americans required all segments of our community to unite. Ministers and other people of faith were right on the frontlines of that historic effort. This year, we must once again take a leadership role," explained Scott.

"Last November, so many voters in Florida and other states had their rights denied and their hopes dashed. One year later, we in the faith community must help the Election Protection project inform and empower our communities so that every voter has a voice in Virginia," said the Rev. Curtis Harris, representing the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

On November 6, Election Protection monitors will be present at nearly 80 precincts in different areas of the state, reported Ralph G. Neas, president of People For the American Way Foundation. PFAWF is a co-sponsor of the project.

"Election Protection is designed not only to identify problems, but to solve them—right on the spot, if possible," Neas stated. "In June, a large number of volunteers joined members of a nonpartisan coalition to remind citizens that voting is a bedrock value of our democracy. This November, we will be working with an even greater number of partners who share a singular goal: Make every vote count."

Neas identified several factors that make Virginia an ideal site for Election Protection activities, including:

Last year, some voters were turned away from the polls because they lacked picture identification, even though Virginia law permits voters without ID to sign an affidavit and vote.
Virginia was one of 23 states last year that encountered significant problems complying with the federal Motor Voter law. Motor Voter was enacted to enable voting-age residents to register by mail, at motor vehicle bureaus or at other government agencies.
Due to its history of voter discrimination, Virginia remains under the jurisdiction of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As in June, Election Protection will be operating a toll-free hotline (1-866-OUR-VOTE) during the hours that polls are open on Tuesday, November 6. The hotline is staffed by a team of attorneys.
Charles D. Chambliss, Jr., a member of the Old Dominion Bar Association, is coordinating the team of attorneys that will staff the toll-free hotline for voters.

"Virginia had its share of voting irregularities this past November, and the executive committee of the Old Dominion Bar Association decided to support the Election Protection project," explained Chambliss. "ODBA members in Richmond, Northern Virginia and Tidewater will be on call to respond to any voting rights abuses on Election Day."

In June, more than 150 volunteers canvassed neighborhoods in Virginia’s 4th Congressional District to educate voters, and the toll-free lawyers’ hotline received more than 100 phone calls from voters or precinct monitors. These Election Protection efforts helped to bolster voter turnout, which reached nearly 38 percent—an impressive figure for a special election.

News coverage noted the positive role that the project played in the June 19 special election. "If 4th District voters run into problems at the polls today," reported the Daily Press of Hampton, "they should look for people with the [Election Protection] T-shirts." By assisting voters, Election Protection’s presence that day, The Boston Globe wrote, "contributed to a relatively smooth day of voting."

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