Volunteers Helped Voters Overcome Obstacles, Public Officials Must Now Be Held Accountable to Fix Serious Systemic Problems
Tens of thousands of voters across the nation flooded nonpartisan voter protection hotlines to report Election Day problems, reflecting a deeply troubling reality that threatens to be overlooked in the media-led rush of relief that the presidential campaign did not extend into a long post-election legal contest, said People For the American Way Foundation President Ralph G. Neas.
The nonpartisan Election Protection coalition facilitated the largest voting rights mobilization in the nation’s history, said Neas. A tremendous outpouring of citizen activism facilitated through Working Assets and more than 100 national, state, and community organizations helped educate and protect millions of voters. More than 25,000 Election Protection volunteers, including 8,000 lawyers and law students, served in 56 field offices, 43 legal command centers, and on the ground in more than 3,500 precincts in 17 states. Thousands traveled far from home to take part in this sweeping effort to protect democracy.
They distributed five million voters bills of rights. They answered 125,000 calls to the nationwide 866-OUR-VOTE hotline – 75,000 on Election Day alone. They gave personal assistance to voters and documented a range of continuing barriers facing voters trying to cast ballots.
Neas said the high visibility of the program and the presence of so many volunteers undoubtedly helped prevent a significant number of voter intimidation and suppression schemes. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” said Neas, “And Election Protection volunteers were shining brightly on Election Day.”
In many cases, poll monitors and volunteer lawyers were able to overcome barriers on Election Day and ensure that voters could cast a ballot. “But in many others, voters lost their opportunity to cast a vote that counts, an irreparable harm to their rights as a citizen and to our democratic principles,” he said.
“In 1964, Freedom Summer brought thousands of black and white Americans together to champion voting rights for all,” said Neas. “In 2004, Freedom Fall brought together tens of thousands of Americans in this massive multiracial, multicultural voter protection campaign. Freedom Fall, like Freedom Summer, was not just an event. It is the evidence of a powerful nonpartisan movement.”
Neas said that People For the American Way Foundation and its Election Protection partners are continuing to advocate for full and fair counting of absentee and provisional ballots, to document the extent of systemic and individual actions that may have disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of voters, and to analyze continuing reports of potential fraud involving voting machines and systems that lack clear mechanisms for audit and accountability.
“Whether or not thousands of disenfranchised voters in a particular state would have changed the outcome of that vote, we cannot permit those votes to be taken away,” said Neas. “Voting rights should always matter, not just when the election margin is razor thin. If state and national officials are allowed to walk away from this year’s elections without fixing the system, we would abandon the voters, betray our democratic principles, and set ourselves up for one electoral disaster after another. Election Protection will not let that happen.”
People For the American Way Foundation’s MyPollingPlace.com was another groundbreaking commitment by a nonpartisan nonprofit organization to civic participation. On Election Day alone, more than three million Americans used the website to get information about where to vote and how to vote on the machines in use at their precinct.
Neas said that many voters were denied the opportunity to vote by unreasonably long delays, a scarcity of machines in predominantly minority precincts, and equipment malfunctions. “While it is stirring that so many Americans were willing to wait for several hours to cast their vote,” said Neas, “many voters had to leave the lines to go to work, to care for children, to meet their obligations. The long lines themselves denied untold numbers of voters the right to cast a ballot.”
In addition, Neas noted, thousands of voters were disenfranchised well before Election Day by public officials whose decisions on registration and ballot issues had the effect of limiting the number of eligible voters rather than on encouraging maximum participation. Election Protection partner organizations challenged some of those decisions in court and in the court of public opinion, with some success.
“We must not allow the issue to be packed up into a warehouse with the voting machines for another two or four years,” said Neas. “We call on all state and federal authorities to investigate credible reports of intimidation and suppression, and take appropriate action, and we will investigate every legal and legislative avenue to remedy continuing disenfranchisement.”
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 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. 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.