Hamil R. HarrisNational

Civil Rights Group Wages War Against Voter Suppression

Stacey Abrams is so convinced that she lost in her 2018 bid to become the first African American governor of Georgia because of “voter suppression,” she has devoted much of the past two years fighting for voter rights.

“I want us to do what we know works, which is same-day registration, universal automatic registration, the elimination of prison disenfranchisement,” Abrams said in the online publication Aspen Ideas. “We need to ensure that at the age of 17, you are automatically pre-enrolled to become a voter.”

Since the election of President Donald Trump, Democratic candidates and civil rights groups have waged a political from states houses to the courts to arrest voter suppression across the country and now, with less than 100 days before the general election the political storm clouds of looming because many are concerned that the coronavirus will affect the number of people who can vote on Nov. 3.

In 2016, Trump received Florida’s 29 electoral votes after defeating Hillary Clinton by 112,911 votes out of more than 9.1 million votes cast. Trump also won 20 electoral votes in Pennsylvania by defeating Clinton by just 44,292 votes. In Michigan, Trump won 16 electoral votes by a margin of .23 percent.

With such razor-thin margins, political scholars say that a drop in people voting can have a big impact and is why so much focus has been on voter suppression.

In June, several civil rights groups filed suit in the United States Court in the Western District of Pennsylvania, charging voter suppression. The groups involved included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Public Interest Law Center, the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference, Common Cause Pennsylvania, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and others.

The civil rights groups challenged the Trump presidential campaign and the Republican Party that had filed a lawsuit on June 29 to block voters in Pennsylvania from depositing their mail-in ballots in drop boxes instead of mailboxes, a secure and streamlined process often used by states that conduct all-mail elections.

“The only reason the Trump campaign is trying to limit the use of mail voting is to make it more difficult for Pennsylvanians to vote. Drop boxes are a safe and efficient option for people who want to participate in our democracy, particularly in the midst of a highly contagious and deadly pandemic,” said Sarah Brannon, managing director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, in a statement.

“The campaign is attempting to limit Pennsylvanians’ constitutionally protected right to vote by preventing the use of ballot drop-off locations,” the filing charges. “A limit on the use of mail-in ballots would place unlawful and unwarranted restrictions on the time, place, and manner of voting in the November 3 elections.”

Further, it would “primarily affect people of color and medically vulnerable individuals, who experience disproportionately higher rates of infection, illness, and death due to the pandemic and face grave risks to their health and the health of their communities if they vote in person.”

“Our democracy works when all voters can exercise their fundamental right and cast a ballot that counts,” said Kenneth Huston, president of the NAACP Pennsylvania State Conference. “Accessing the ballot box is particularly challenging for many Pennsylvanians during the COVID-19 pandemic. Reducing access to the vote-by-mail process risks disenfranchising eligible voters. The NAACP has stood with Pennsylvania voters who seek to vote safely and will continue to do so here.”

“Election officials in some counties have tried to make it easier for people to vote in the middle of a pandemic, and the Trump campaign is cynically trying to undercut that effort,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “No matter who people want to vote for, there should be as few hurdles as possible to exercise that right.

John Powers, counsel at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said, “At a time of a public health crisis, when every reasonable step should be taken to make voting more accessible, the Trump campaign has filed this suit to make it less accessible.”

When it comes to voter suppression, one can find many examples across the country. In Denton County, Texas, close to half of Denton’s voting machines were inoperable because the wrong machines had been delivered to early voting locations, creating confusion and long lines.

In July 2016, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that HB 589, often referred to as North Carolina’s “monster voter suppression law,” found that the legislation, which introduced a restrictive voter ID law, reduced early voting opportunities, and eliminated same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting and preregistration, targeted African American voters with”surgical precision.”

In striking down the restrictions on early voting, the federal court noted that data was provided to NC legislators that showed African Americans disproportionately used early voting in 2008 and 2012. Nonetheless, 17 counties across the state cut early voting locations and hours, using the

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Hamil R. Harris

Hamil Harris is an award-winning journalist who worked at the Washington Post from 1992 to 2016. During his tenure he wrote hundreds of stories about the people, government and faith communities in the Greater Washington Area. Hamil has chronicled the Million Man March, the Clinton White House, the September 11 attack, the sniper attacks, Hurricane Katrina, the campaign of President Barack Obama and many other people and events. Hamil is currently a multi-platform reporter on the Local Desk of the Washington Post where he writes a range of stories, shoots photos and produces videos for the print and online editions of the Post. In addition, he is often called upon to report on crime, natural disasters and other breaking issues. In 2006 Harris was part of a team of reporters that published the series “Being a Black Man.” He was also the reporter on the video project that accompanied the series that won two Emmy Awards, the Casey Medal and the Peabody Award. Hamil has lectured at Georgetown University, George Washington University, Howard University, the American University, the University of Maryland and the University of the District of Columbia. He also lectures several times a year to interns during their semester in the District as part of their matriculation at the Consortium of Christian Colleges and Universities.

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