This special edition of “Noted” features highlights from our Voting Rights blog, a collaboration with Colorlines. Visit TheNation.com for more.
THE THREAT: Right now, there are only five states with strict photo ID laws for voters. Six more have flexible photo ID laws that allow a broader range of acceptable identification, while nineteen states require some non-photo form of ID to vote.
But if you live in, say, Illinois, where there is no voter ID law at all, you might be alarmed to find on election day that you still have to produce ID to vote. Why? Because it is one of twenty-four states where your voting rights can be challenged by a poll watcher—any registered voter, really, representing a broad range of groups—even if the watcher has no evidence that you should be challenged. And if you are challenged in Illinois, you have to produce two forms of ID to prove you’re eligible to vote.
Such practices are innocuous only when divorced from their racial history. A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice, “Voter Challengers,” details that troublesome history while spelling out just how insidious such poll-watching activities can be. For more details on this study, visit TheNation.com. BRENTIN MOCK
FIGHT BACK: THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT A growing number of digital tools are being rolled out to encourage maximum voter participation by the very groups the right is trying to disenfranchise. A sampling:
Native Vote: In the 2008 presidential election, 34 percent of the total Native American population over 18 was eligible but not registered to vote. Native Vote, an initiative of the National Congress of American Indians, is hosting training sessions and webinars focused on using phone banks and social networking to get out the vote in Native communities. Users can register to vote on its website and access a toolkit, including an election observer guide.
18 Million Rising: Founded to promote the civic engagement of the approximately 18 million Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States, 18MR wants to change the fact that only 55 percent of Asian-Americans are registered to vote—the lowest rate of all demographic groups. People can register on its website and also sign a pledge to vote.
Nuestra Elección: A collaboration among groups like Southwest Organizing Project’s Campaign for a Better New Mexico, New Mexico Vote Matters, Progress New Mexico Education Fund and Presente.org, Nuestra Elección informs Latinos about voter suppression efforts in New Mexico and allows users to print a voter registration form to mail in. Those already registered can fill out an online form and receive e-mail reminders before election day.
Rock the Vote: Beyond registering people online, Rock the Vote is inviting them to become Voter Registration Partners, enabling them to create customizable registration tools to share on their websites, blogs and Facebook pages. Rock the Vote has also launched a #WeWill hashtag on Twitter to urge young people to vote.
866 Our Vote: People of color are the fastest-growing demographic of smartphone adopters, so an app designed to fight efforts to undermine their vote makes perfect sense. The Election Protection Smartphone App, deployed by a coalition that includes the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Verified Voting Foundation, provides resources in English and Spanish for users to register, find their polling place, review state voting rules and see what type of machine they’ll vote on. MAEGAN E. ORTIZ
ONE GOOD WEEK FOR VOTING RIGHTS: A single week in September brought a number of triumphs against attempts to disenfranchise voters. In Colorado, one of the states hoping to use a Department of Homeland Security database of noncitizens to purge voter rolls, Secretary of State Scott Gessler (who has issued 4,000 letters challenging voters’ citizenship) abandoned the plan. And in a legal victory for the Advancement Project, the state of Florida agreed to restore to the voter rolls anyone the supervisor of elections can’t confirm as a noncitizen. Florida Secretary of State Kent Detzner had previously sent letters erroneously telling some voters they weren’t eligible. Florida will now send letters confirming their right to cast a ballot. AURA BOGADO
AN OBAMA SUPER PAC HITS THE ROAD: When two historically black fraternities celebrated their 100th anniversary, members asked themselves how they could show their appreciation to the community that had supported them for a century—and decided to help re-elect Barack Obama. That’s how Sinclair Skinner tells it as he leans back in the driver’s seat of the massive 1911 United bus. Sinclair, the group’s treasurer, says that because fraternities are limited by their 501(c)(7) status, members wanted to take advantage of Citizens United to get out the vote. So they formed a Super PAC. The bus has made the rounds of black neighborhoods in swing states like Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Pennsylvania with the goal of recruiting 1,000 volunteers, who will get 100 people apiece to register and vote.
For a short video profile of 1911 United, visit TheNation.com. AURA BOGADO
VOTING RIGHTS AS A MATTER OF FAITH: One of the most powerful speakers at the Democratic National Convention was Representative John Lewis. The Georgia congressman recalled being in North Carolina more than fifty years ago on a Freedom Ride to challenge segregation in the South. He explained that after he and a fellow rider attempted to enter a whites-only waiting room, an angry mob beat them and left them lying in a pool of blood.
Many delegates cried when they heard Lewis describe how, following President Obama’s election, one of the men from that mob apologized; Lewis said he accepted this apology and forgave him. Addressing the delegates as “brothers and sisters,” Lewis also talked about the sanctity of voting and how that right is being threatened.
Many people agree with Lewis that voting is a sacred act, and some are organizing their religious communities to defend it. One such person is Nelson Pierce Jr., a pastor at Beloved Community Church in Cincinnati and the lead organizer with The AMOS Project. For his moving essay on how he came to consider voting as a matter of faith, visit TheNation.com. AURA BOGADO
Many of Florida’s ex-felons are receiving conflicting information on their voting rights. That could spell disaster in November. Read Brentin Mock’s report, also in this week’s issue.