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Voting Rights Are Under Attack and We Must Organize to Get Them Back

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Voting is a civic sacrament -- the highest responsibility we have as Americans. Yet millions of Americans face impediments to voting. If you believe in participatory democracy, and if you want your candidate or cause to win in November, answer this call to service and leave no voter behind.

The stakes are enormous: President Barack Obama's policies, Supreme Court appointees, and agenda for America; the potential for a progressive or Teapublican Congress; the fate of job creation, workers' voices amid women's health; and thousands of down ballot races and propositions are all to be decided in November. Early voting begins in under 200 days -- and we must be ready.

What are the challenges? Millions of Americans face voting rights impediments -- and opportunities.

Democratic National Committee vice chair and Voting Rights Institute chair Donna Brazile cautions that voting is "still threatened every election day by uninformed poll workers, technology, campaigns more interested in winning than an individual's right, and election laws that don't always make sense."  (see her interview in my book Campaign Boot Camp 2.0 on page 126)  Moreover, in the last few years there has been an aggressive effort to restrict voting.  According to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, legislators around the country have been pushing bills that make sweeping changes to their election codes to limit the voting rights of students and movers, reduce early voting days, and restrict voter registration and "get out the vote" mobilization efforts that all told could restrict voting rights of 5 million Americans in 2012.

The DNC's Voting Rights Institute report on voter ID laws is revealing: 11 percent of Americans--approximately 23 million citizens of voting age -- lack proper photo ID and, as a result, could be turned away from the polls on Election Day. Those without photo ID are disproportionately low-income, disabled, minority, young, and older voters.

Americans with disabilities face voting impediments too. A 2011 op-ed by Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and Mark Perriello, president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, states: "There are more than 30 million Americans with disabilities of voting age, yet the Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports that there are more than 20,000 inaccessible polling places. Some are located in basements or buildings without ramps, and others only offer machines that are outdated and unworkable for a person who is blind, deaf, or physically impaired. Too many citizens with disabilities can only cast their vote curbside or are denied the right to a secret ballot when they have to speak their vote out loud for someone else to mark down." Henderson and Perriello point out: "If impediments were removed and people with disabilities began voting in the same proportion as other Americans, fully 3.2 million more people would be casting ballots.

All Americans face voter depression strategies. Look to the West, where GOP-backed Latinos for Reform ran despicable ads urging Latino voters not to vote in 2010. Galvanized by longtime civil rights activists like Dolores Huerta, who called it a "deceptive trap of no representation" and new media networks like Voto Latino, Latino voters did vote, and a majority gave their votes -- and thus the Senate Majority -- to pro-immigrant Democrats Harry Reid in Nevada, Barbara Boxer in California, and Michael Bennet in Colorado.  

What are the opportunities in all this negativity? They are the chance to engage voters to take a stand for democracy -- a "use it or lose it" proposition. They are the decision  to make voter protection a rallying cry -- to remind people which party wanted them to vote and which one didn't.

How can we find voting rights opportunities in these challenges? The most practical solution is to get organized: campaigns must draft and citizens must join election protection teams to help leave no voter behind.

What is an election protection team? It is a group of voting rights experts and legal observers that develops the strategy to ensure that supporters vote and that their votes are counted as cast. From voter registration to vote recount, an election protection team keeps its eyes on the prize -- the vote -- at all times. In 202 it is not enough to know the ballot -- you have to know the law to prepare as many voters as possible for the polls. Voters and volunteers must know the law in your community to prepare and plan campaigns. Basic information like the NAACP's This Is My Vote keeps us up to date on the law and possible changes.

Who serves on an election protection team?  Official campaign counsels and people who understand the voting patterns of the community, including representatives of constituency groups who have voting rights expertise and who can add counsel and help with get-out-the-vote efforts across the electorate. Also helpful are local members of national groups that track voting rights issues including political parties, Rock the Vote, Democracy for America.

Particular areas of concern are early voting, military ballots, and student voting so members also include veterans and military families as well as national networks such as the Overseas Vote Foundation and Democrats Abroad who know logistics for the Federal Absentee Ballot.

We know the challenges: our voting rights are under attack and we must organize to get them back. 5 million Americans potentially disenfranchised by voter ID laws; 3.2 million Americans with disabilities face impediments to voting; millions of Americans encountering voter depression strategies like those "Don't Vote" ads. We have the solution: get informed and involved, engage voters, and vote for the people who want you to vote.

If you are not willing to let voting rights slip away to voter suppression and voter depression tactics, if you are not willing to leave any of these votes on the table in November, join an election protection team today and resolve to leave no voter behind.

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