WASHINGTON -- Deidra Reese isn't waiting for people to come to her to find out whether they are registered to vote.
With iPad in hand, Reese is going to community centers, homes and churches in nine Ohio cities, looking up registrations to make sure voters have proper ID and everything else they need to cast ballots on Election Day.
"We are not going to give back one single inch. We have fought too long and too hard," said Reese, 45, coordinator of the Columbus-based Ohio Unity Coalition, an affiliate of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
Reese is part of a cadre of black women engaged in a revived wave of voting rights advocacy four years after the historic election of the nation's first black president. Provoked by voting law changes in various states, they have decided to help voters navigate the system – a fitting role, they say, given that black women had the highest turnout of any group of voters in 2008.
"We've forgotten our mothers went to three jobs, picked us up from school, put the macaroni and cheese on the table, got up and got somebody registered to vote," said actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, one of several women who participated in a strategy session this week during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual legislative conference in the nation's capital. Ralph is married to Pennsylvania state Sen. Vincent Hughes.
The political and financial power of black women is one of the themes of this year's four-day event. It will culminate Saturday with a keynote speech from one of the most visible black women in America, first lady Michelle Obama.
"It's time for us to lead the way because we voted in greater numbers than any other gender and race group last election, and we got to do the same this year," said Elsie Scott, president and CEO of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
Turnout among women of all races is generally higher than for men. In 2008, about 69 percent of eligible black female voters went to the polls, an increase of 5.1 percentage points over 2004, according to a study of census data on 2008 voters by the Pew Hispanic Center. That compares with 66.1 percent of white women.
African-American women, who number about 20 million in the U.S., have long been the largest group of Democratic voters in the country, said David Bositis, senior research associate with the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies.
In a room at the Washington Convention Center on Wednesday, the sense of urgency among the women was palpable. They noted that voter registration deadlines in some states are as early as Oct. 6, the last of them on Oct. 16. Few attendees accepted the argument that the new voting laws were intended to fight fraud, as supporters of those laws maintain.
Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of The Advancement Project, said black women showed in 2008 they can turn out in record numbers. But in 2010, "we sat home and while we were sitting at home, there were others that were plotting and what they decided to do was to change the rules of the game."
The women invoke the name of abolitionist and women's suffragist Sojourner Truth, and repeat civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer's famous line – "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired" – as a rallying cry. They talk strategy about checking to see who's been purged from voter rolls or locating documents that voters need to get photo identification. All along, they remind voters of the time, before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 became law, when black people were kept from voting.
Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said a voter hotline set up by several groups already gets a thousand calls a day. Callers are typically people who don't know if they can vote, whether their felony conviction keeps them from voting or what ID is required in their state, if at all.
Her organization has created a computer app that allows people to verify their registration status, get help registering online, learn about voting requirements in their state, find polling places and receive other assistance.
Related on HuffPost:
You're an average voter in Pennsylvania. The night before Election Day, your wallet goes missing, leaving you without immediate access to any of the identification you'll need to vote at your local precinct the following morning. While many people in this situation may have backup forms of identification, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/pennsylvania-voter-id-law_n_1652469.html" target="_hplink">studies have shown</a> that a significant percentage of would-be voters don't. The state's safeguard against the immediate disenfranchisement of people in this situation is a provisional ballot cast on the day of the election. But this doesn't mean your vote counts, yet. According to <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx#PA" target="_hplink">Pennsylvania's new photo ID law</a>, anyone who casts a provisional ballot is required to "appear in person at the county board of elections" within six days of the vote to provide proof that their ballot was valid. If you're able to take time away from your job to do this, the process still requires a would-be voter to either show up with valid ID -- a replacement driver's license <a href="http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/fees/index.shtml" target="_hplink">would cost $36</a> and considerable time -- or to <a href="http://www.dmv.state.pa.us/pdotforms/voterid/VoterAffirmationNoProofofID.pdf" target="_hplink">sign an affirmation</a> that you are indigent and not able to afford the fees associated with acquiring a photo ID. Even if you make a rapid and somewhat expensive turnaround to get a replacement ID -- or alternatively swear under oath that you are too poor to pay for such a document -- there is no guarantee that your vote will end up counting. Many elections are largely decided before provisional voters have a chance to verify their validity, which could serve to discouraging them from following up with election officials or leave them effectively disenfranchised. In 2008, <a href="http://www.eac.gov/assets/1/Documents/2008 Election Administration and Voting Survey EAVS Report.pdf" target="_hplink">only 61.8 percent</a> of all provisional ballots cast were fully counted. With the recent implementation of these strict photo ID measures, however, the number of provisional ballots submitted will likely increase, as will the requirements for voters hoping to make them count. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
Eleven percent of eligible voters say they lack current government-issued photo IDs, a <a href="http://www.brennancenter.org/page/-/d/download_file_39242.pdf" target="_hplink">survey</a> on the potential impact of voter ID laws found. You live in Georgia and you're one of them. Like 66,515 other Georgians, according to a <a href="http://brennan.3cdn.net/773c569439b50452e0_kzm6bo5l6.pdf" target="_hplink">recent study</a> from the Brennan Center for Justice, you also lack vehicle access and live more than 10 miles from an office that issues state ID. As a registered voter who's skipped the past few elections, you decide you'll vote this year. But you spend your life working multiple jobs to provide for your family, not tuned in to a news cycle that may have told you about a voter ID law that changed the requirements. If you were aware of the measure, you'd know that you have to get yourself to a state office during business hours to procure a photo ID in order to vote. According to the Brennan Center, these facilities are often only open part time, especially in areas with the highest concentration of people of color and in poverty. While the state does offer a free photo ID initiative, the Brennan Center points out that many of the offices provide confusing or inaccurate information about what Georgians need to do to get one. This may be a tough task as you juggle a strenuous work schedule with other commitments -- and that's assuming you're aware of the requirement. But you're not, so you head to your voting precinct on election day with no access to an acceptable form of identification and vote with a provisional ballot. To <a href="http://sos.georgia.gov/gaphotoid/3679BasicVotingInfo_printer final.pdf" target="_hplink">verify that ballot</a>, you'll have two days to present appropriate photo ID at your county registrar's office, which at this point wouldn't be doable. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
As an elderly Tennessee resident, you've made a decades-long Election Day habit of traveling to your local polling place and exercising your franchise. It's an important day for you, and it gives you the rare opportunity to leave your house, where you live alone. For a number of years, you've had an identification card that allows you to vote. But thanks to the state's strict new voter ID law, that document will no longer be sufficient. Reports <a href="http://www.wbir.com/news/article/185824/2/Tennessee-voter-ID-law-awaits-effect-on-seniors" target="_hplink">found</a> that 230,000 Tennesseans older than 60 possess driver's licenses that don't have photos on them. Such ID will not be accepted at polling places in November. While the state has agreed to issue photo IDs free to anyone who asks, a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/tennessee-voter-id-law-program_n_1669323.html" target="_hplink">recent study</a> found that only a tiny percentage of potential targets have applied. Perhaps that's because people like you weren't aware of exactly how the change was going to affect them. Maybe you weren't even aware of the change. Poll workers tell you that you can cast a provisional ballot on Election Day. You'll <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx#tn" target="_hplink">have until</a> "the close of business on the second business day after the election" to find an applicable piece of identification -- which you don't have -- and present it to a designated elections official. Whether it's your lack of an acceptable form of identification, the difficulty in finding transportation back to the elections official, or the prospect of having to go through the drain of the entire process again, you're discouraged, and give up. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
You're a resident of Kansas in your early 60s, fully expecting to vote in November. Your driver's license is your primary form of ID, but you rarely carry it anymore. You don't drive and you haven't traveled abroad in years, leaving your passport expired or lost. In the months before the election, you changed addresses, and for some reason never received a notification from the state reminding you that your license had expired. On the day of the election, you head to your polling place, unaware that you're about to be told your license is expired and therefore invalid according to the state's new voter ID law (Kansans over the age of 65 can use expired IDs, but you're not there yet). You're given a provisional ballot and informed that <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx#Kansas" target="_hplink">you must</a> now "provide a valid form of identification to the county election officer in person or provide a copy by mail or electronic means before the meeting of the county board of canvassers." While Kansas says it has <a href="http://www.wycokck.org/Internet2010ElectionBanner.aspx?menu_id=1092&banner=27765&id=26946" target="_hplink">historically counted</a> around 70 percent of its provisional ballots, this year provides a different landscape. The next steps can be somewhat difficult, and with the enacting of the state's photo ID law, the use of such ballots will undoubtedly become more commonplace. Faced with disenfranchisement, you must now race against the clock to have your vote included. With no other acceptable forms of ID available, you go about the process of renewing your license. <a href="http://www.ksrevenue.org/renewingdl.html" target="_hplink">According to the state</a>, this requires you to make your way to a state office, where you'll have to provide a number of identifying documents and pay the fee. By the time you can find someone to chauffeur you through this process -- public transportation is complex and unreliable where you live, <a href="http://www.kansas.com/2012/07/24/2418365/voter-id-law-burdens-wichita.html" target="_hplink">even if you're in an urban center</a> -- most of the major election results have been announced on the news. You decide the undertaking isn't worth the time. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
You're a first-time voter in Indiana who <a href="https://forms.in.gov/Download.aspx?id=9341" target="_hplink">registered to vote</a> at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles using your Social Security number, a process that also <a href="http://www.in.gov/bmv/2339.htm" target="_hplink">required you</a> to get a state identification card, which you placed in your wallet. As a recent high school graduate who commutes with other workers to your full time job on a farm, you rarely need to present identification, so you didn't even bother to get a new ID card when it went missing from your locker a few weeks before the election. You risk potential firing when you travel to your polling place with other members of your community on voting day, but you're intent on participating in your first election. Without valid photo ID, however, you don't get to pull the lever. Under Indiana's new photo ID law, you're instead required to fill out a provisional ballot. But you're told you'll still need to jump through additional hoops that could prove too demanding. Now tasked with making visits during business hours to both the Indiana BMV to <a href="http://www.dmv.com/in/indiana/drivers-license-replacement" target="_hplink">get a replacement ID</a>, and then to the <a href="http://www.ncsl.org/legislatures-elections/elections/voter-id.aspx#in" target="_hplink">county elections board</a> to verify your ballot, you decide keeping your job is more important than voting. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>
Pennsylvania, Part II
Viviette Applewhite is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Pennsylvania's new voter ID measure. She's a 93-year-old great-great grandmother who has voted regularly for decades. She claims she doesn't have access to any of the documents she'll need to vote. With no driver's license and no birth certificate, needed to get a photo ID, Applewhite says she'll be disenfranchised by the law. And she's not the only one. A <a href="http://www.aclupa.org/legal/legaldocket/applewhiteetalvcommonwealt/voteridclients.htm" target="_hplink">number of other plantiffs in the ACLU case</a> against Pennsylvania's photo ID law claim they have been unsuccessful in attempts to get copies of their birth certificates and other papers due to complexities in the state's record-keeping. Most claim the measure will take away their vote.
Georgia, Part II
You're a longtime resident of Georgia, but you've just recently returned home from a six-month out-of-town assignment from your job. You get into town on the Monday before Election Day. Most of your possessions are still being shipped from halfway across the country. Old friends invite you to a bar to catch up, but in the process of removing your driver's license from your wallet to present to a bouncer, it cracks in half, leaving it officially invalidated. Without a valid license, you won't be able to cast a ballot the next day. You'd renew it and choke down the $20 or more fee <a href="http://www.dmv.org/ga-georgia/id-cards.php#Replacing-an-ID-Card-" target="_hplink">for the replacement</a>, but the documents you need to present are in the moving truck. An election official informs you that you can fill out a provision ballot on Election Day. To <a href="http://sos.georgia.gov/gaphotoid/3679BasicVotingInfo_printer final.pdf" target="_hplink">verify that ballot</a>, you'll have two days afterward to present appropriate photo ID at your county registrar's office. Either you're telling the moving company to drive twice the speed limit for the next 48 hours straight, or you're accepting your disenfranchisement. <em>(Photo: AP)</em>