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Obama Campaign Launches Huge Voter Protection Effort, Countering Voter ID Laws | The Nation

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Ari Melber

Ari Melber

Law, politics, new media and beats, rhymes and life.

Obama Campaign Launches Huge Voter Protection Effort, Countering Voter ID Laws

The Obama campaign launched a national effort to counteract voter-identification laws on Friday, rolling out a bilingual online portal, Gottavote.org, and a fifty-state system for educating and turning out Obama supporters.

This is an unusually early time for a presidential campaign to focus on voter education, reflecting the concern among Democrats about new challenges to voting access in several key states. “We want to start as early possible,” explained Michael Blake, the campaign’s deputy director of Operation Vote, on a press call announcing the initiative.

Visitors to GottaVote.org are automatically directed to a state-specific page with local rules for registration and a checklist of “what to bring” to the polls. The campaign also uses the site to harvest phone numbers and e-mails, offering to text or e-mail voting reminders for Election Day. (Over a million people signed up for the 2008 campaign’s text messages.) The portal tries to cut through the thicket of voting rules with clear information about how to follow the law and be counted.

“Voting is easy when you have the facts,” the campaign declares. Even viewed through GottaVote’s user-friendly glasses, however, the ease depends most on where you live. Visitors to the page for Washington state will be relieved—there are no ID requirements and no polling places to find. It’s all vote-by-mail. The checklist for Arizona, on the other hand, is daunting:

Make sure you bring:

One ID with your current name, address, and photograph including:

  • A valid Arizona driver license
  • A valid Arizona non-operating identification license
  • A tribal enrollment card or other form of tribal identification
  • A valid United States federal, state, or local government issued identification
  • Or two different forms of non-photo ID with your current name and address on them.
  • Utility bills, dated within 90 days of the date of the election. A utility bill may be for electric, gas, water, solid waste, sewer, telephone, cellular phone, or cable television
  • A bank or credit union statement dated within 90 days of the date of the election
  • A valid Arizona Vehicle Registration
  • An Indian census card
  • A property tax statement of the elector’s residence
  • A tribal enrollment card or other form of tribal identification
  • An Arizona vehicle insurance card
  • A Recorder’s Certificate
  • A valid United States federal, state, or local government issued identification, including a voter registration card issued by the County Recorder
  • Any mailing to the elector marked “Official Election Material”

It’s also a far cry from last cycle. In 2008, the Obama campaign’s voter-education efforts focused more on dispelling rumors that people needed identification to vote. In one of its most effective, below-the-radar videos, Jay-Z assured Michigan residents that they could vote without a license.

“Even if you don’t have ID, you can still vote—don’t worry about that,” said the famous rapper, dressed in a hoodie in front of several Obama yard signs. I asked Obama aides about the challenge of updating those kind of materials, but they cast the new program as an inevitable part of campaign outreach.

“Voter education is a constant process,” said Bob Bauer, the top lawyer for the campaign and a former White House Counsel. “To the extent that the laws change, new laws have to be built into the voter protection effort,” he added. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are also trying to directly enlarge voting access. Congressmen John Lews and Steny Hoyer introduced the Voter Empowerment Act this week, as The Nation’s Ari Berman reported.

The Obama campaign is also leading a “weekend of action” on May 19 for voter registration and education. During the announcement, Bauer sounded more philosophical than frustrated about the new barriers to voting rights. “We’ve never solved anything in this coutry with less democracy,” he said.

 

 

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