Artists for a New South Africa Joins Election Protection Team

Celebrity radio ads urge voters to know and exercise their rights

Artists for a New South Africa (ANSA) has joined People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) and other coalition partners to support the Know Your Rights / Election Protection project, the nation’s most ambitious nonpartisan program to prevent Election Day disenfranchisement. ANSA founders and supporters Blair Underwood, Charles S. Dutton, Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Robert Guillaume, and Sinbad recorded radio ads that will run as paid spots and public service announcements on African American-oriented radio stations in a number of states.

“We are honored and excited by the support of Artists for a New South Africa,” said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas. “They bring a powerful commitment to democracy to an already broad and impressive coalition. They will help us encourage voters to know their rights and overcome any obstacles to exercising their rights.”

Other ANSA supporters have signed endorsements and letters of support for the program, including Gillian Anderson, Vivica A. Fox, Morgan Freeman, Danny Glover, Samuel L. Jackson, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, Alexandra Paul, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, and Denzel Washington. A letter signed by more than a dozen prominent artists voices concerns about the many Americans who were disenfranchised at the polls and the number of ballots that were not counted in 2000 and in the 2002 primaries. “It is frightening that it is now easier for a black person to vote in Johannesburg, South Africa than in Jacksonville, Florida,” states the letter.

“We at Artists for a New South Africa believe passionately that voting is an essential human right,” said Sharon Gelman, executive director of ANSA. “We are proud to be a part of Election Protection efforts to educate people about the voting process and defend the rights of citizens to participate in our democracy by casting their ballots.”

The Know Your Rights / Election Protection program brings national strategic partners together with state and local coalition members in a comprehensive program of nonpartisan voter education and mobilization, Election Day poll monitoring, and free same-day legal assistance for voters who run into any problems. People For the American Way Foundation has committed $2.5 million to the effort, which will engage the energies of thousands of volunteers from a wide range of groups between now and Election Day.

Neas said that groups carrying out Election Protection efforts have prepared state-specific “Voters’ Bill of Rights” materials in plain English – and in some areas, Spanish and Creole – for 20 states. All the materials, which will be distributed by state and local groups encouraging civic participation, include a toll-free hotline number for voters to reach attorneys ready to step in and solve problems. National groups partnering for the project will have more extensive programs on the ground in Florida, Georgia, Missouri, Nevada, Texas, and Wisconsin, where radio and print ads will buttress the materials and on-site poll monitors will distribute voting rights information.

Between now and Election Day, Election Protection participants will engage in door-to-door canvassing and distribution of Voters’ Bill of Rights materials. On Election Day, volunteer poll monitors in trademark Election Protection T-Shirts emblazoned with “You Have the Right to Vote” work at targeted precincts, helping answer voters’ questions, encouraging them to assert their rights, and getting help when needed. A toll-free hotline number (1-866-OUR-VOTE) is printed on all materials and publicized via radio and print ads and earned media. Lawyers and law students trained to respond to problems are available by telephone and are on-call to visit precincts and contact election officials if necessary.

The program’s success rests on its ability to excite and mobilize volunteers by drawing on the expertise, networks, and resources of a broad range of organizations. PFAWF’s national partners include the NAACP, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, the A. Philip Randolph Institute, National Newspaper Publishers Association, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the African American Ministers Leadership Council, the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, the National Council of La Raza, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, the National Hispanic Press Foundation, ADA Watch, the Paralyzed Veterans of America, the National Council on Independent Living, and the National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems. State-level coalitions include a wide array of civic, legal, religious, and labor organizations.

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