Groups working to protect the vote

From: Chapel Hill Herald; Saturday, October 30, 2004

The 2000 election was a scandal or, perhaps more accurately, a crime of historic proportions. According to investigative reporter Greg Palast, fully half of the rejected ballots that year, about a million in total, were cast by African Americans. This despite the fact that blacks comprise only 12 percent of the U.S. population.

While we may hope that this disenfranchisement does not recur, it is an unfortunate fact that barriers to voting remain prevalent in many areas that are home to minorities. According to Palast, few of tens of thousands of African-Americans who were improperly removed from voter rolls in 2000 have been returned to them.

For most of us, it is hard to reconcile ourselves to the fact that there are political actors in our nation who do not believe in the right to have one's vote counted. What could be more basic to American democracy than the right to vote?

But, unfortunately, for those who rise to the top of the political ladder, the quest for power often trumps any commitment to fairness. It was Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who opined in Bush v. Gore that he could find "no right of suffrage" in the Constitution. And, it should be recalled, as Michael Moore documented so well in "Fahrenheit 9/11," no senator of either party would sign on to the objections over the 2000 election raised by the Congressional Black Caucus.

To understand the racial dimensions of disenfranchisement, read the NAACP report "The Long Shadow of Jim Crow: Voter Intimidation and Suppression in America Today".

The NAACP is, not surprisingly, a member of the Nov3 coalition which asks citizens to sign a pledge of action to begin protests immediately after the election if it appears that voting rights have been systematically violated.

The coalition's Web site points out that "the crisis of our democracy did not start with Bush and won't end with Kerry" and calls for an "election year debate to expand beyond Democrats versus Republicans ... no matter who wins, we will be uniting to define democracy as grassroots and participatory."

The NAACP is also a key member of Election Protection, a national coalition of groups monitoring election results. Although North Carolina is not among its 14 "priority states," the coalition-affiliated Voting Rights Project of the Institute for Southern Studies has trained some 300 nonpartisan poll monitors.

The VRP will have monitors in more than a dozen key North Carolina counties on Election Day. In addition, they will have on-call attorneys who will be available to go to a polling site as a resource for voters.

VRP partners with the UNC Law School's Center for Civil Rights. There is a toll-free hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE, that voters are encouraged to call if they have questions or see problems with the voting process. On Election Day, the hotline will connect to a satellite call center based at UNC's School of Government. The hotline will be staffed by lawyers and law students who can help answer voters' questions.

The director of VRP, Tara Purohit of Carrboro, explained that "in this election we are working to protect every voter's right to register, vote and have that vote counted. Some areas of concern are the administration of provisional ballots, which are meant to ensure that if a voter's name does not appear on the list of registered voters when they present themselves to vote that they are given a provisional ballot, so that no one should be turned away from the polls.

"Some first-time voters may be asked to show ID before voting, so we encourage all voters to carry a form of identification with them when they go to vote. Also, we want all voters to know that voting a straight party ticket in NC does not cast your vote in the presidential or judicial elections. It is important for voters to cast a separate vote for president and to vote in the nonpartisan judicial races."

Lynice Williams of Raleigh-based Fair Share, another Election Protection coalition member, summed it up simply, "we want to make sure that people understand what their rights are."

Those interested can download the "NC Voter's Bill of Rights", a longer version of the information that the poll monitors will be passing out on Election Day.

Legal challenges are already mounting to this year's election procedures: problems with missing absentee ballots, allegations of registration tampering, and new barriers to voting have all been in the news. To avoid a repeat of 2000 will not be easy.

The first step is to vote. The second, just as essential, is to support the Election Protection coalition, Nov3, and others working to ensure that all votes are fairly counted.




Good post!

Best, Jack


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