A coalition of civil rights and labor leaders gathered Tuesday, on the columned steps of New York City Hall to announce a voter rights campaign in opposition to potential new laws that, according to the coalition, disenfranchises minority groups.
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The campaign, “Stand For Freedom” was formally announced at Tuesday’s press conference, where speakers Al Sharpton, Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, U.S. Representative Charles Rangel, and other coalition members denounced states that are considering law reforms that would put in place more stringent rules for voting and registration.
The coalition is comprised of civil rights and labor organizations, including the NAACP, National Action Network, United Federation of Teachers, National Urban League, New York Civil Liberties Union, and unions representing Asian, Latino and other minority groups.
In dozens of states, new rules to voting and registration are being presented by lawmakers, mostly Republican, that would eliminate same-day voting, and require official photo identification in order to cast a ballot. Other new laws, the coalition said, could also cut early voting and Sunday voting opportunities.
Sharpton and supporters argue that such voter law reforms hearken back to the Jim Crow laws–outlawed in 1965–which discouraged African Americans from registering to vote due to poll taxes and literacy test requirements.
Sharpton said, today’s minority voters are facing a distant cousin of the Jim Crow laws. “Generations before faced Jim Crow, we face James Crow,” Sharpton said metaphorically.
“The end of early voting and other measures is a blatant attempt to undermine the Voter Rights Act,” Sharpton said.
Proponents of this movement are concerned that new state voting laws will erode national voter turn out, and create a new wave of disenfranchisement for Americans–specifically minority groups, immigrants, seniors, working women and students.
“We are in the midst of the greatest coordinated legislative attack on voting rights since the dawn of Jim Crow,” said Jealous, NAACP national president. “Voter identification 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.”
Sharpton said the new sweep of voter reform has much to do with the Republican and Tea parties’ attempt to defeat President Barack Obama in the 2012 Presidential Election. Blacks, Latinos and young voters were among the strongest voting base in Obama’s 2008 presidential victory, whom Sharpton and others argue will be most impacted by the proposed voting laws.
“They are willing to take away votes in order to take down the president,” Sharpton said.
Republican lawmakers have argued that voting and registration reform is necessary in order to prevent voter fraud, which came to the forefront in 2008 when Acorn, a group organizing minority and low-income communities, was accused of a fraudulent voter registration scheme.
Rep. Rangel, who represents New York’s 15th District in Harlem, compared the changes to state election laws to the “Ku Klux Klan without hoods.”
“This is not just for blacks, this is for the country,” Rangel said.
Rangel specifically addressed the new law proposal that would require an official photo identification in order to vote. He argued that such a requirement would prevent seniors and young voters, who do not have driver’s licenses, from voting.
“If you don’t have a car, why do you need identification?” Rangel queried.
Rangel encouraged young voters to get involved in the political process. “You’re not too young to take part,” he said.
According to a report recently released by the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 38 states are considering or have considered voter identification or proof of citizenship laws including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Delaware. The battleground states, Ohio and Pennsylvania were among those actively moving forward on voter identification legislation.
While voters in some states can request free photo identifications from state motor vehicles departments, they must still pay to obtain documents, such as birth certificates, necessary to get identification. The Stand For Freedom coalition said such measures could discourage citizens from voting at an alarming number.
Tuesday’s conference served as a precursor for the coalition’s national day of protest, United Nations Human Rights Day, to take place on Dec. 10 outside the Koch Brothers offices, where supporters will rally to stop new voter and registration laws from being passed.