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Voter Protection Initiative Unveiled By Congressional Black Caucus

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AP
AP

WASHINGTON -- The Congressional Black Caucus held a series of events throughout the country on Tuesday to educate communities on voter suppression laws and to help ensure eligible voters aren't turned away at the polls in November.

Members of the CBC have partnered with community leaders and local and state elected officials in their districts to present the "For the People" voter protection initiative. The goal of the project is to give local leaders the tools to inform constituents of what documents and procedures are required to vote.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), chairman of the CBC, spoke to The Huffington Post about the initiative's premise.

"We concluded that the [Justice Department] was doing a pretty good job, that the courts seemed to be working in favor of supporting the interpretation that I think most people have of the Voting Rights Act: that you can't come in and disrupt voting without a pre-clearance from the Justice Department in the states that historically have problems with minority voting," Cleaver said. "We eventually came to the conclusion ... that we should not just sit in the background and wait for the courts to act, that we were going to maximize voter registration and voter participation.”

Cleaver has been an outspoken voice in Congress against restrictive voter ID laws that he claims target black and Latino voters. During last week's Annual Legislative Caucus, he argued that such laws shouldn't be an excuse for anyone not to vote. "Any African-Americans who don't vote should give us their color back," he said at a town hall meeting last week, prompting a roar of applause from the audience.

The For the People initiative, Cleaver told HuffPost, is designed to eliminate as many potential excuses as possible.

"We are struggling to get young people out to vote; that group is the least likely to turn out en masse," Cleaver said. "And so we have got to make sure they understand that once is not enough. They voted in 2008 and they celebrated it, and if you can believe the opinion polls, many of them are not that anxious about voting. This is not a once-in-a-lifetime deal, it is a lifetime deal."

In April, the National Urban League released a report naming African Americans as the hidden swing voters. The report included statistics showing that in the 2008 presidential election -- and for the first time in history -- the black vote was proportionally equal to that of whites. The report noted that President Barack Obama would not have won if only whites had voted, and that the black vote must be equal to if not greater than what it was in 2008 for Obama to win a second term.

Cleaver said the voter suppression laws are a direct result of those facts.

"This is a response," he said. "What we are going through now is a response to a massive turnout in 2008. If we don't turn out again in those numbers, we're going to end up letting the world know that if someone throws an inconvenience to us or a significant challenge, that we will fold."

Elected officials like Cleaver and other CBC members argue that the franchise is the civil rights issue of this generation. First Lady Michelle Obama echoed this sentiment on Saturday during the CBC's Annual Awards Gala, when she said that voting rights was the "march of our time." The laws became the dominant topic of discussion during the Annual Legislative Caucus last week.

In addition to bringing attention to restrictive voter laws, the CBC initiative is working to educate constituents on voter registration requirements. According to Cleaver, there have been close to 3 million home foreclosures since the 2008 election. Individuals who have relocated need to register to vote using their current address.

"They may not realize that they are no longer registered to vote. Once you move, once you change your address, it has to go on file with the election board. So we've got a lot of people who we are afraid won't be able to vote because they'll show up on Election Day and can't prove their address."

The CBC is also putting in place 'get out the vote' operations and has implemented an online voter rights toolkit, which highlights the information presented by the For the People initiative.

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