6 Months to Election Day: Are We Ready?

V.O.T.E. Coalition To Work With Election Officials, Educate and Assist Voters

With exactly six months to go before the elections in November, the Voices of the Electorate (V.O.T.E.) coalition today launched the nationwide, nonpartisan Know Your Rights/Election Protection program with kick-off events in four states: Florida, New Mexico, Ohio and Georgia. With record levels of voter turnout expected, and concerns raised over the reliability and accountability of new voting systems, the nonpartisan program will provide voter education materials, and recruit poll monitors and attorneys to provide free legal advice to voters in key states around the nation.

“With six months to go, the clock is ticking. We expect a very close election, and tremendous voter turnout. This election will put enormous strains on our voting systems,” said Ralph G. Neas, President of People For the American Way Foundation. “The nonpartisan Election Protection program will help voters understand their rights, and give them instant access to free legal advice when they encounter problems at the polls.”

Prior to the election, the program will distribute millions of state-specific “Voters’ Bills of Rights” and work with local election officials to identify and address emerging problems. On Election Day, the program will provide poll monitors to watch for possible instances of voter intimidation or suppression, as well as toll-free voter hotlines (1-866-OUR-VOTE) to provide voters with instant access to free legal advice from volunteer lawyers and law students trained in election law.

“This is the most ambitious effort to limit disenfranchisement in minority communities in recent memory,” said Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The multi-million dollar program will print a “Voters’ Bill of Rights” for at least 30 states, and recruit volunteers and paid staff in key states. It focuses voter education and assistance on historically disenfranchised communities, including African-Americans, Hispanics, the disabled and families who live in low-income neighborhoods.

“We are determined to avoid a repeat of the Florida fiasco in 2000. Our Unity ‘04 Campaign is leveraging the resources of 130 powerful organizations- meeting people where they live, work, play, and pray - to make sure that our community knows what their rights are on Election Day,” said Melanie Campbell, executive director and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Inc.

The Election Protection program was developed in response to the Election Day debacle in 2000. The program has been deployed in intervening elections, and will be greatly expanded for the 2004 elections. Members of the V.O.T.E. coalition include People For the American Way Foundation, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, LULAC, the African American Ministers Leadership Council, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Inc., the Unity ’04 Voter Empowerment Campaign, Voices of the Electorate, the NAACP National Voter Fund, the A. Phillip Randolph Institute, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, Black Youth Vote, the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, among other national and state organizations.

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