Voter Restrictions Affecting Citizens' Rights

Voter Restrictions Affecting Citizens' Rights

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 “Eleven percent of the American registered voting population are subject to new qualifications and restrictions that they cannot meet. Over 21 million Americans currently do not have the type of new photo ID requirement that was put in place in a number of states,” declared Edward A. Hailes, Jr., general counsel and managing director at the Washington, D.C.-based multi-racial civil rights organization Advancement Project. Hailes, along with Katherine Culliton-Gonzalez, the organization’s senior attorney and director of voter protection, and Florida Voter Protection Advocate, Jamaican-born Carolyn Thompson, were recently in Miami at a New America Media-sponsored briefing on voter restriction practices that are affecting voters across the United States, including those in Florida.
Hailes said many people do not drive and have reasons for not having the kind of identification that is sponsored by the government. Some students, the elderly and disabled are affected.

“There are persons like 93-year-old Thelma Mitchell in Tennessee who, for her entire working life, cleaned the state capitol, who has voted for as long as she could remember. But was unable to vote in Tennessee because she no longer had a current ID,” he said.

“She was told she could get a free ID, but the underlying documents required included a birth certificate. Thelma Mitchell was born in Alabama into the hands of a midwife because there were segregated hospitals in the South that would not allow black children to be born in their hospitals. So, she does not have a birth certificate,” Hailes added.
EARLY VOTING

He explained that his organization has seen more people of color - African Americans and Latinos - voting during early voting periods than their white counterparts. But in many states the effort has been to eliminate the last Sunday before the election as a voting day. The elimination of that day means decreased opportunities for many people to cast their ballots. He emphasized that Florida and Ohio, the so-called major battle ground states, are among the states reducing early voting periods.

Hailes explained that there are also heavy restrictions on third-party voter registration.

“Most people of color register through the canvassing efforts of third-party registration groups,” he said. “...Not everybody go to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Not many people working double shifts and caring for elderly parents can spend three or four hours at the DMV to get these registration opportunities. So, when somebody shows up at their door with a registration application it gives them a greater opportunity to participate in our democracy.”

“There is an unprecedented wave of restrictive voting laws that have a discriminatory and disparate impact on African Americans and Latinos,” said Culliton-Gonzalez. “...That’s illegal.”

PURGE

She noted that Florida started a purge of alleged non-citizens from its voters list in April 2012 and since then 15n other states have copied the “Sunshine State”. Cuilliton-Gonzalez explained that the state compared those on the voters’ role to driver licenses database. They targeted everyone who identified themselves as immigrants when they received their right to drive. However, the problem is many of these people became naturalized U.S. citizens after they received their licenses.

“The state sent letters out to 2,600 people who came up on this list. We brought a case against them,” she confirmed.

According to Culliton-Gonzalez, overwhelming evidence quickly showed that the methods used by state officials were clearly flawed. The list included a large number of U.S. citizens, many of whom had voted for years. Some 82 percent of persons on the initial purge list were black, Latino, or Asian American.

“What happens here in Florida is so important to the rest of the country,” she said. “...This is not the American dream they worked hard to earn.”

Culliton-Gonzalez said Florida, along with 15 other states, has also tapped into the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database to verify citizenship. However, the database is not a complete or accurate list of U.S. citizens.

Protecting your vote, said the Advancement Project officials, is important, especially in states with new voter restriction practices.

“The sitting President (Barack Obama) won by about 600,000 votes in 2008. So these restrictions, these new laws, these ALEC-sponsored (American Legislative Exchange Council) legislative measures that were passed by right wing state legislatures could have an impact on this election,” Hailes warned.