Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper
DemocThe assault on voting rights and voting practices drew loud and targeted protest in New York City Dec. 11 as a coalition made up of civil rights, organized labor and community advocacy organizations staged a march and rally they called the Stand for Freedom in midtown ManhattanThe rally, attended by approximately 25,000 demonstrators, according to one estimate, marked the vanguard of a counter-assault on the drive to erode voting rights, according to its organizers who say voting rights for minorities are under siege.
The coalition initiating the march and rally included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League, Service Employees International Union Local 1199, and the American Civil Liberties Union, the demonstrators rallied against efforts by lawmakers in 34 states to undermine voter rights and zeroed in on 14 states where such laws have been passed. They also are trying to block attacks on early voting, Sunday voting and same-day registration.
“Voting rights are being challenged all across the United States,” said Diane Sanders, an organizer with 1199SEIU. “People have died for the right to vote. We can’t just sit by and let our rights be taken from us.”
She spoke after coalition of the various groups marched to the United Nations from the New York offices of Koch Industries, targeted by protesters as the financial spark that allegedly has helped ignite the legislative surge to roll back or inhibit voting rights.
“If successful, these laws would disenfranchise well over five million voters. That’s more people than live in Manhattan, Bronx, and, I think, Staten Island put together, and that’s not what democracy should be about,” said Donna Lieberman of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
”You can’t accomplish anything if you’re not prepared to fight,” Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), wearing a hat with embroidered with “NAACP”, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“Voter ID laws are nothing but reincarnated poll taxes and literacy tests, and ex-felon voting bans serve the same purpose today as when they were created in the wake of the 15th Amendment guaranteeing ex-slaves the vote — suppressing voting numbers among people of color,” said NAACP President Benjamin Jealous in remarks he made before the rally.
A Koch spokesman denied a company role in anti-voter rights efforts. “Koch has taken no position on the voter ID issue, which is why these groups are wrong and completely misguided in their false accusations,” company spokesman Bill O’Reilly said in a statement.
ACLU files suit in Wisconsin
MILWAUKEE, Wis. – The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty today filed a federal lawsuit charging that Wisconsin’s voter ID law is unconstitutional and will deprive citizens of their basic right to vote. The lawsuit is the only active federal challenge against a voter ID law, the most common type of legislation that is part of a nationwide attack on the right to vote.
“This lawsuit is the opening act in what will be a long struggle to undo the damage done to the right to vote by strict photo ID laws and other voter suppression measures,” said Jon Sherman, an attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “Across the nation, legislators are robbing countless American citizens of their fundamental right to vote, and in the process, undermining the very legitimacy of our democracy. We intend to redirect their attention to the Constitution.”
The complaint says that allowing only certain types of photo ID imposes a severe burden on the right to vote in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It also states that the law violates the 24th and 14th amendments because it effectively imposes an unconstitutional poll tax. The lawsuit was filed Tuesday, December 13, 2011, the same day that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was scheduled to speak about the importance of ensuring equal access to the ballot box.
“The state of Wisconsin has created a voter ID system that is making it very hard or impossible for residents to exercise their cherished right to vote,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Countless Wisconsin residents, including veterans, minority voters and seniors who have been voting for decades, will be turned away from the polls under this law’s restrictive photo ID requirements. Our lawsuit aims to block this unconstitutional law so that Wisconsin can continue its proud tradition of high participation in elections.”
The law will also have a severe impact on homeless voters, many of whom do not have photo identification.
Protecting homeless persons’ right to vote is crucial, since voting is one of the few ways that homeless individuals can impact the political process and make their voices heard,” said Heather Johnson, civil rights attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “By limiting participation to Wisconsin residents with photo identification, this law effectively silences homeless persons’ voices. With homelessness rising by 12 percent in Wisconsin since the recession began, we cannot allow the state to set this dangerous and unconscionable precedent.”
The ACLU and the Law Center filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin on behalf of 17 eligible Wisconsin voters who may not be able to vote under the law.
* Ruthelle Frank, 84, of Brokaw, who does not have a birth certificate. When she was born at home in 1927, her mother recorded her birth in the family Bible. Under Wisconsin’s law, she is unable to obtain an ID needed to vote. She herself is an elected official, having served on her village board since 1996.
“I have exercised my right to vote in every election since 1948,” Frank said. “I should not suddenly be barred from voting just because I don’t believe in paying for identification in order to vote. That’s like a poll tax and sends this country back decades ago when it comes to civil rights.”
*Carl Ellis, 52, is a U.S. Army veteran living in a homeless shelter in Milwaukee. His only photo ID is a veteran ID card, which is not accepted under the law.
“If I can serve my country, I should be able to vote for who runs it,” Ellis said. “Veterans and others who do not have a certain type of photo ID should not be kept from voting. These laws are undemocratic and un-American.”
*Anthony Sharp, 19, is an African-American Milwaukee resident who does not have any of the accepted forms of photo ID under the law. Sharp, who lives with his family, does not have income needed to purchase a $20 certified copy of his birth certificate in order to vote.
“You shouldn’t have to pay all this money to be able to vote,” he said. “I’m a citizen and was excited about voting, but I don’t have the money to pay for all these documents. Every American must be able to vote, not just those who can afford to get an ID.”
The 2011 Wisconsin Act 23 was signed into law May 25 and is effective starting with the state’s primary in February. Under the law, Wisconsin voters will need to present a certain type of photo ID, which many eligible voters do not have. Many photo ID alternatives are excluded. For example, the law does not allow technical college and veteran ID cards. More than 380,000 students are in Wisconsin’s technical college system, and over 15 percent of them are minorities.
The ACLU has also submitted comment letters to the U.S. Department of Justice regarding discriminatory voting laws in South Carolina and Texas and has intervened in court cases in which North Carolina and Alabama are challenging the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. The ACLU also filed motions to intervene in similar cases filed by Arizona and Georgia.
Weather for Eutaw, Ala. Tuesday Wednesday ThursdayPartly Cloudy90/70Chance of a Thunderstorm82/68Chance of a Thunderstorm86/66
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