Washington - The need to protect voter rights in the face of attempts to suppress and intimidate voters -- especially minority voters -- is crucial this election year, People For the American Way Foundation (PFAWF) president Ralph G. Neas said today at a Capitol Hill news conference with members of the Congressional Black Caucus and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
"Every day, new reports come in from across the country. Today we see that there were restrictions on voter registrations of Native Americans at federal hospitals, and that planned anti-terror measures could have the effect of discouraging voter turnout," Neas said, referring to reports in today's Washington Post. "In every election, there are those who try to keep people away from the polls. The best response is vigilance -- turning the hard light of public scrutiny on such efforts before the election takes place."
The election problems in Florida and elsewhere that led to the disenfranchisement of some four million American voters in the 2000 elections cast a harsh spotlight on flaws in our voting system, from illegal actions and incompetence by public officials to outdated machines and inadequate voter education. As election officials nationwide struggle to put new voting technology into place, redesign confusing ballots and educate voters, the opportunities for voter intimidation and suppression have proliferated along with opportunities for disenfranchisement caused by voter confusion and technical problems, as documented in a joint PFAWF and NAACP report, ".
All these issues demonstrate the urgent need for voter rights advocacy and voter education and empowerment programs. PFAWF is a founding member of the Election Protection coalition, the nation's most far-reaching effort to protect voter rights from now through Election Day and beyond. The historic, nonpartisan program provides:
- A toll-free number, 1-866-OUR-VOTE, with free, immediate and multi-lingual assistance to help voters with questions about registration and voting, and assist voters who encounter barriers to the ballot box.
- More than five million "Voters' Bills of Rights" with state-specific information, distributed by coalition partners across the nation.
- 25,000 trained poll monitors, including 5,000 lawyers and law students, to watch for problems and assist voters on the spot at more than 3,500 African-American and Latino precincts in at least 17 states.
- Civil rights lawyers and advocates to represent voters in lawsuits, preserve access to the polls, expose and prevent voter intimidation, solve problems with new voting machines, technology and ballot forms, and protect voter rights from now through Election Day.
- The www.electionprotection2004.com web site, where voter education materials and resources can be downloaded, and volunteers can sign up to contribute their time, talents and money to safeguard a fair election process in 2004. Soon this web site will also provide information on poll locations, the type of machines used at that location, and information on how to use that machine.
- The American Bar Association, the National Bar Association, and the Hispanic Bar Association have all endorsed this vital initiative that goes to the heart and soul of our democracy.
Election Protection draws its strength from a coalition of more than 100 national, state and local partners. Coalition partners include: People For the American Way Foundation, NAACP, the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Voter Protection Project of America's Families United, the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, the AFL-CIO, the Advancement Project, Working Assets, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the National Council of La Raza, the NAACP National Voter Fund, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause.