Significant Numbers Register to Vote
When a Republican-dominated U.S. Supreme Court selected George W. Bush as president in 2000, experts, political pundits and others said they hoped the debacle of hanging chads, ineligible ballots and purported electoral improprieties would not be repeated.
But 12 years later, there are growing fears that the Nov. 6 elections might be fraught with similar issues and problems that could throw the result of the race between President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney into doubt for weeks after balloting is completed.
So in an effort to fight against a sustained voter suppression effort by Republicans and to ensure that the election results aren't close, members of the Congressional Black Caucus [CBC], the American Civil Liberties Union and a range of organizations across the country took part in National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 25. It is estimated that voter suppression could potentially cost as many as five million votes.
"I appreciate that we have a very important job to do leading up to Nov. 6," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told thousands of participants at the CBC's recently concluded 42nd Annual Legislative Conference. "Right now, we have a challenge to succeed in meeting this new age of discrimination ... our names are on the ballot but there's nothing less on the ballot than our honor."
"Our strength is our vote which is why it's under attack."
National Urban League President Marc H. Morial agrees.
"These new laws are a thinly-veiled attempt to drive down turnout among people of color, senior citizens and students," Morial said, noting that new laws have been introduced in 41 states since 2010, and passed in 17 states and appear to target very specific voting blocs. "While some of the laws have been struck down by the courts, millions of people could face new hurdles when they go to cast their ballots. We want to make sure everyone is properly registered and prepared."
On National Voter Registration Day, besides CBC members, volunteers, representatives from organized labor, celebrities, and organizations such as the Fair Elections Legal Network, the League of Women's Voters, Non Profit Vote and Voto Latino hit the streets on a "single day of coordinated field, technology and media efforts" to create a blanket of awareness of registration opportunities.
It is provisional balloting that could cause election officials heartburn. The new voting laws in key swing states could force a lot more voters to cast provisional ballots in November. Delays of results in close races might not be known for days or weeks while election officials pore over ballots and campaigns stake out positions over which votes should be counted.
It is expected that the new laws in competitive states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia and Florida could easily leave the eventual outcome of the election in doubt, particularly if the vote is close. Meanwhile, recently implemented laws in Tennessee, Kansas and South Carolina could precipitate delays in the release of results in local and state elections.
Voters cast provisional ballots because they failed to update their voter registration; their right to vote may be challenged; or because they didn't bring proper ID to the polls.
Verifying that those who cast provisional votes is one thing, but that process could take election officials days or weeks. Another layer of uncertainty exists because elections officials won't know the number of provisional ballots cast until after Election Day.
If a candidate wins by a landslide, then provisional ballots will carry much less weight but their importance shifts if the race between Obama and Romney and between congressional challengers is close.
Donna Brazile, veteran political strategist, academic and vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said current voter suppression laws or those being considered in 41 states are designed to disenfranchise minorities, the elderly, the poor, students, and disabled voters who are often less likely to have the types of IDs the GOP is demanding. At the same time, supporters of these restrictive measures say the laws are necessary to maintain the integrity of the election process and prevent fraud.
Lee Saunders, head of the 1.6 million-strong American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, [AFSCME], said in a Sept. 28 interview that he was heading to battleground states this past weekend to join 80,000 union activists and staff who will be working tirelessly in the effort to re-elect Obama.
"We'll be leafleting, making phone calls, knocking on doors, talking to people who may not be union members,"said Saunders, who was born into a union family and who has worked with AFSCME in a variety of capacities for 34 years. "We'll never be able to compete [monetarily] with Romney and the Koch Brothers ... [but this] will prove to be the turning point and will put the president back in office."
In the five-plus weeks before the general election, the Urban League has embarked on what officials say is a concerted and coordinated anti-voter suppression effort, where the organization has intensified its voter education, registration and motivation activities nationwide.
"[We are] keenly aware of the overwhelming sacrifice our predecessors made to secure the right to vote," said Morial. "We will not stand by and allow voter suppression efforts to turn back the clock on our constitutional rights."
Last week, Urban League officials unveiled a series of "Occupy the Vote" video, radio and print ads, featuring Angela Bassett, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Lamman Rucker, Eric Benét and other celebrities. Also this week, supporters were invited to become "Freedom Fighters," serving on the front lines of the battle for equal voting rights.
League workers at affiliate offices in North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Virginia have been making phone calls, and knocking on doors. They and other organizations are using Twitter, Facebook and other social media to reach millions of Americans, especially young people.
"Our goal is to reach 500,000 people through our various outreach efforts," Morial said.
Even those not actively engaged in efforts to beat back cases of voter suppression said protecting people's right to vote is imperative.
"This is a very important issue. Yes, it does matter; [we must] cherish the right to exercise that franchise," said Republican strategist and commentator Ron Christie at the CBC's town hall on voter suppression. "In this election more than any, people need to get out and vote."
Longtime Civil Rights activist and Georgia Congressman John Lewis concurs.
"Being able to vote, particularly in this country, shouldn't be partisan, it's precious, almost sacred," he said soberly. "People died for this vote, stood in long lines ... in the 1960s, all I did was give a little blood. Three young men I know gave their lives. It is not for us to be silent and not make some noise. We will march to polling stations and elections offices to dramatize this issue."
"We are too quiet. We need to make some noise and get up off our butts on Nov. 6."