Tens of Thousands of Americans Join in Multiracial, Multicultural Election Protection Coalition to Encourage Civic Participation, Uphold Voting Rights for All Americans
No matter which candidates are elected on November 2, Americans can take heart in the outpouring of activism on behalf of voting rights and civic participation. In the largest voting rights mobilization since 1964’s historic Freedom Summer, tens of thousands of Americans have joined in a remarkable multiracial, multicultural, nonpartisan effort to protect the right of all eligible voters to take part in our democracy.
In more than 50 cities across the nation this week, volunteers are distributing several million state-specific voters’ bills of rights designed to give voters confidence to cast a vote that counts, and providing a toll-free number to reach one of thousands of volunteer lawyers in case voters run into any problems on Election Day. On Monday night, thousands of volunteers will receive training to be nonpartisan Election Protection poll monitors. And on Tuesday, thousands of volunteers, many who have traveled far from home to protect voters at risk of disenfranchisement, will monitor polls and help voters get legal assistance if necessary.
The nonpartisan Election Protection coalition is a collaboration involving more than 100 national, state, and local public interest groups working together to protect voters’ rights and energize civic participation in America. Some 25,000 volunteers, including 8,000 lawyers and law students, are taking part. More than 2,000 college and high school students will board buses to provide voter assistance at the polls. Volunteers will work through more than 56 field offices and 43 legal command centers stationed around the country.
Tens of thousands of Americans have received information and legal assistance through the nationwide hotline, 1-866-OUR-VOTE, and by this morning a million Americans had received information about their polling location and polling machines through mypollingplace.com.
Why Election Protection?
The 2000 elections were a wake-up call. In the aftermath of the election fiasco in Florida, it became clear that problems had not been limited to Florida. In fact, according to a 2001 Caltech-MIT study, more than four million Americans from all over the country were disenfranchised in 2000. People were denied the right to cast a vote – or to have their vote counted – by a range of problems, including faulty equipment, poorly designed ballots, and untrained poll workers, as well as voter intimidation and suppression efforts and other illegal actions by public officials.
Many of the people victimized in Florida were first-time voters who had responded to energetic registration programs designed to boost civic participation by minority voters who have traditionally been underrepresented at the polls. Election Protection was created to ensure that voters turned away from the ballot box in 2000 did not turn away from civic engagement, and to provide voters with better information about their rights as well as strong legal backup to help them protect those rights.
In spite of the intensely divisive and damaging problems that influenced the outcome of the 2000 election, and in spite of federal and state legislation intended to address those problems, the nation’s electoral system remains a patchwork of registration and voting systems, with too few meaningful safeguards to protect voters’ rights. In addition, outright efforts to dissuade, discourage, and disenfranchise voters continue at a dismaying pace, as documented in The Long Shadow of Jim Crow: Voter Intimidation and Suppression in America, published in August by People For the American Way Foundation and the NAACP. Yesterday, the organizations released a new report, Barriers to Voting, highlighting problems that have arisen in just the past few months. Meanwhile, the potential for systemic breakdowns is heightened by intensive voter registration efforts and the first-time use of new voting technologies in many areas.
Election Protection – the Program
Election Protection 2004 is the nation’s most far-reaching effort to protect voter rights before and on Election Day. The historic nonpartisan program includes:
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. Thousands of callers have already been assisted in finding out where and how to register and vote.
A web site, www.mypollingplace.com where voters can find their polling place and obtain information about the voting equipment used at that location, and how to operate that equipment.
More than five million “Voters’ Bills of Rights” with state-specific information are being distributed by coalition partners across the nation.
25,000 volunteers, including 8,000 lawyers and law students, to watch for problems and assist voters on the spot at more than 3,500 predominantly African-American and Latino precincts with a history of disenfranchisement 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, work with election officials to identify and solve problems with new voting machines, technology and ballot forms, and protect voter rights in advance and on 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.
Election Protection – the Coalition
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, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, NAACP, 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 League of United Latin American Citizens, 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 Women Voters and Common Cause. 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.