Fewer than 30 days before Election Day, civil rights groups are ramping up efforts to educate and protect voters’ rights amid a more challenging legal landscape.
“ are doing everything we can to prepare voters for the first elections since the Supreme Court impaired the Voting Rights Act last year in the infamous Shelby v. Holder case,” said Barbara Arnwine, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, in a press call Oct. 7. “New threats to voting rights must be met with fresh and hard-hitting responses. , the Lawyers’ Committee and its non-partisan Election Protection partners offer new resources to empower voters before, on and after Election Day.”
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According to Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund, 7.8 million Latinos are expected to vote this year, an 18 percent increase from 2010. But voter confusion can contract turnout.
Research shows that “the lack of reliable and accessible information on the voting process is one of the greatest barriers to Latino electoral participation,” Vargas said.
And voter confusion among all demographic groups has increased since the Shelby decision, given the number of states that have passed new voting laws that restrict access to the ballot box and the legal challenges to those laws.
“Some people might think erroneously that election protection is a stale issue…that everyone has equal access to the ballot now that the days of poll taxes…are over. We disagree. States like Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina and Texas have enacted stringent voter law changes just in the months and weeks before Nov. 4,” Arnwine said.
Ohio and North Carolina, for example, have cut early voting by seven days. Any day now, a federal District court in Texas will rule on whether to uphold that state’s voter ID law, the most restrictive in the nation. And, just this week, a federal appeals court on Oct. 6 upheld Wisconsin’s voter ID law, but recent polling shows a significant percentage of Wisconsin voters are unsure whether photo ID is required for voting.
“Just from that poll alone we see that numerous eligible Wisconsin voters might become disenfranchised if they aren’t given the right information to protect their right to vote. That’s why our voter empowerment tools are constantly evolving and are so necessary,” Arnwine said.
Earlier this year, the Election Protection coalition—which comprises groups representing minority and other vulnerable communities—released voter education toolkits for the faith and civic organizations to distribute to their memberships.
The group also newly launched the “I Pledge” campaign, an interactive way of spreading election protection information via social media. Supporters can download the “I pledge” poster, take a picture or video and post to Instagram or Vine with the election protection hashtag to drive people to the www.866OURVOTE.org website, which offers information on recent changes to election laws and other key information.
On Oct. 7, the group also introduced a bilingual smartphone app, which allows voters to confirm their registration status, fill out a voter registration form, find their polling place, verify the kind of voting machine they will use, access FAQs (frequently asked questions) and key voting information like the state’s voter ID requirement and e-mail or call Election Protection to report problems or ask questions.
Election Protection has also reactivated its 1-866-OUR-VOTE hotline, which is manned by trained volunteers, who are ready to help voters from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday.
And, Arnwine said, beginning on Oct. 18, evening and weekend hours will be added to accommodate an anticipated increase in call volume.
Already, this week, the hotline has received numerous calls from voters in Georgia—whose voter registration deadline was Oct. 6—whose registrations were among the 50,000 apparently being held in abeyance.
This is extremely problematic to us,” Arnwine said. “We are taking every step necessary to look into the situation to rectify it.”