Americans are Voting Early and Making Plans to Ensure Their Vote Counts

The first of three presidential debates touched on many hot topics, with President Donald Trump and presidential candidate Joe Biden having an impassioned debate over the integrity of the 2020 election. While President Trump has been very vocal in the past about voter fraud, he claimed that mail-in voting fraud is a particular concern this year. In addition to voter fraud, Trump also claimed that mail-in ballots are being thrown out and that the number of mail-in ballots will overload the systems currently in place for receiving and counting votes.

With the current COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 75% of voters have the ability to vote by mail for the upcoming general election. During the debate, as well as on twitter, Trump said that there are 80 million mail-in ballots being sent to people who did not request them and declared it “unfair” and “total fraud.” While a few states do automatically send out mail-in ballots to voters, there is no way that this would add up to the proclaimed 80 million ballots. The accusation of fraud by mail-in has been shown to be unfounded, and The Brennan Center for Justice has put together a compilation of independent and government research that shows that voter fraud is rare. How rare? Between 0.0003% and 0.0025% of votes in various past elections. In fact, from 2000 to 2012, there were only 2,068 cases of voter fraud, with only 24% of those being related to mail-in ballots. Despite his concerns, Trump has cast his vote by mail-in ballot in the past.

During the debate over the integrity of this year’s election, presidential candidate Joe Biden cited the FBI, whose director has said that there has been no evidence of any type of coordinated voter fraud. Biden said that mail-in ballots are necessary this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and reaffirmed the idea that they are safe and secure. Biden noted that people can still vote in person, and urged the people watching to make sure they do vote this year. He also brought up the fact that the military has been using mail-in ballots since the Civil War.

While mail-in voting has had a strong and lengthy history in the U.S. for military members, the process works a bit differently for the general population. All states routinely offer absentee ballots, often used by college students, military members, and others who are not able to visit their polling location on election day. Due to COVID-19, more than 30 states have allowed residents to request absentee mail-in ballots without a specific reason. There are also five states (Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii) that have been regularly using all mail-in voting without issue.

This year, many people are not comfortable voting in person, with some studies showing that almost 50% of people are uncomfortable with the idea. This is to be expected due to the ongoing fluctuation of COVID-19 cases throughout the country. Another unique challenge that is impacting the voters of the US this year is the ongoing conflict between Trump and the USPS. Trump has admitted to blocking funding that the USPS needs to maintain its operations, and has mentioned “fraudulent” mail-in voting as part of his reasoning. People residing in states that are allowing absentee ballots due to COVID-19 are encouraged to request and return their mail-in ballots as early as they can.

On top of the barriers caused by Trump’s interference, many states have strict voter ID laws, registration rules, and few physical polling locations. Voter ID laws negatively impact already marginalized groups of people, including people of color, low-income individuals, and young people. Without an ID, you cannot vote, but many people do not have the time, resources, or funds to acquire a state-issued ID. In recent years, various southern states have closed a combined total of over 1,200 polling locations, further adding to the barriers citizens face when trying to cast their votes. The closed polling locations have predominantly impacted people of color and people living in low-income communities, which have seen the most polling location closures.

Mail-in voting can be beneficial for those who have seen their previous polling locations close, as well as people who may experience challenges voting in person. Although polling places are supposed to follow the guidelines set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), approximately 60% of polling places were inaccessible for people with various disabilities in past elections. People living with certain disabilities are also at higher risk for serious complications if they contract COVID-19. For these reasons, mail-in voting is an important tool that Americans living with disabilities need access to this year.

Mail-in ballots have been a part of voting in the U.S. since the 1800s, and they will continue to be an integral part of the election system for the foreseeable future. With more states moving towards all-mail voting systems, the evidence is clear – mail-in voting is safe and it works. Remember, over 30 states have allowed their residents to request absentee ballots without a reason, making it easier than ever to vote in the 2020 presidential election. You can visit vote.gov and select your state to find out how to register to vote and check your voter status.

Make sure you check out your state’s specific voting page for accurate information on voting by mail, as it varies from state to state. If you live in a state that is not allowing you to vote by mail in this election, this website can tell you if your state requires your employer to give you time off to go vote in person. To make sure you have all the resources to vote, Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw created When We All Vote, which offers a Voter Resources Hub full of information specific to where you live. Knowledge is power, and this year, more than ever, it is important to know your voting rights and make sure your voice is heard in the 2020 election.

ICE Subpoenas Local Election Boards for Troves of Information Undermining 2018 Election Administration

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sebastian Kielmanovich recently issued subpoenas to Boards of Elections in all 44 counties in North Carolina’s Federal Eastern District on behalf of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  While the exact timing of the issuance of the subpoenas is not clear, they became public knowledge on September 4 after an email was sent to all members of the local boards and redacted subpoena language was posted to Twitter.

https://twitter.com/marceelias/status/1037153473412911105

The subpoenas seek “all poll books, e-poll books, voting records, and/or voter authorization documents, executed official ballots that were submitted to, filed by, received by, and/or maintained by” the local board of elections “from August 30, 2013 to August 30, 2018.”  

“The timing and scope of these subpoenas from ICE raise very troubling questions about the necessity and wisdom of federal interference with the pending statewide elections,” said Kareem Crayton, Interim Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.  “With so many well-established threats to our election process from abroad, it is odd to see federal resources directed to this particular concern.

We are closely monitoring the handling of these subpoenas and will keep all legal options on the table to ensure that communities in our state enjoy an election process free from meddling and intimidation.”

This is part of a pattern in North Carolina.  On August 17, 2018, the Department of Justice announced federal prosecutions of nineteen individuals in the Eastern District alleged to have voted while ineligible. Both the prosecutions and the new federal subpoenas come after a number of counties in the state decided not to prosecute ineligible voters who voted in the 2016 election.

Most of those instances included voters who were ineligible due to the fact that they were still technically serving an active felony sentence by being on probation or parole, and these voters did not realize they were still ineligible to vote.

Despite most counties declining to prosecute cases because of the lack of nefarious intent on the part of the voters, the State Board of Elections & Ethics enforcement is still referring cases of ineligible voters in the 2016 election to district attorneys for prosecution.

The Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) represented five citizens in Alamance County who were charged with voting while ineligible due to an active felony sentence.  All of those cases resulted in misdemeanor pleas deals that included no admission of guilt and the dismissal of the voting-related charges.  SCSJ is concerned that the efforts in North Carolina to criminalize the ballot box and drum up evidence of “voter fraud” may be replicated on a much larger scale.

“This is clearly a fishing expedition that picks up where the Pence-Kobach Commission stopped.  This administration appears to be outsourcing the Commission’s discredited agenda to U.S. Attorneys, thus wasting our local election administrators’ valuable time and resources, many of which had been focused on ensuring our upcoming elections are free from foreign interference,” said Allison Riggs, Senior Voting Rights Attorney for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

“It’s ironic, and clearly a political exercise, that an administration that has benefited from foreign election interference is now seeking to burden local election administrators in a way that will impede them in their efforts to safeguard against that same interference in the upcoming election.”

Voter Suppression? We’ve Got An App For That

Election-Collection-Screenshots

These days it seems like there’s an app for everything. If I can map my daily jog, surely I should be able to use this new technology for a greater good. With this in mind, we set about designing an app that would use mobile technology to help prevent and document incidents of voter suppression. Southern Coalition for Social Justice has launched Election Collection, a data gathering initiative that uses a location-based mobile data collection app to document, track, and rapidly respond to voting irregularities and instances of voter suppression at polling places nationwide for the 2014 General Election.

The app’s design was guided by community geography principles and is directly informed by the array of needs communicated by litigators, organizers and researchers in attendance at the inaugural convening of the Southern Leaders for Voter Engagement in May of this year.Election Collection is a free app designed to help voting rights advocates record instances of voter suppression for use by election protection volunteers as well as voting rights litigators, social scientists, and other voting rights advocates.

This app allows users to nimbly relay the status of Election Day events in real time to both in-house legal response teams and to fellow volunteers on the ground. On Election Day, trained volunteers will be able to log in to personalized accounts and record incidents of voter suppression using its listed forms. The intuitive app is easy to navigate as it follows a simple design that should be familiar to those who have ever filled out a form on a website.

Volunteers can select from a wide range of text fields, drop-down menus, multiple-selection buttons, and photo and audio file attachments to relate a highly accurate and comprehensive account of voter suppression events.
SCSJ, in cooperation with several partner groups, is leading ongoing training sessions for teams of Election Collection volunteers to use the mobile app to gather information from voters on-site at polling locations nationwide.

Each time the app is used to record a voter contact, it will upload immediately to the Election Collection cloud database and mapping service, where it will then be relayed to or conveniently accessed by remote teams of legal monitors at different locations throughout the country. From there, attorneys can effectively respond to voter problems as they arise using the desktop interface in either a map or spreadsheet view. Polling place monitors can similarly view an up-to-the-minute map of recorded incident reports on their smartphones using the mobile app.

The Election Collection app was designed by a community-based activist and researcher in collaboration with organizers, policy analysts, litigators, IT entrepreneurs, and mobile GIS industry specialists. These participatory and multidisciplinary roots account for its characteristic flexibility in form and function. The app is intended to record not only general data that national voting rights advocates, researchers and litigators might desire, but also such information that voting rights advocates at the state and local levels have identified as being critically important to protecting voting rights in their respective areas of operation.

Generally, the app collects data in several categories: voter information, wait time, ability to vote (regular ballot, provisional ballot, no ballot), types of voter problems encountered (voter registration problems, identification problems, etc…), witness information, and media attachment or documentation. It is also configured to support tailored forms to gather data related to state- or locally- specific policies or practices that impede a voter’s access to the ballot.

Election Day collection is designed for two audiences: (1) volunteers in the field, who will have simple interfaces that work across platform and device; (2) back-end users (litigation, policy, research), where immediate voter problems are flagged and routed in real time to attorneys.

Individuals or organizations interested in downloading the app and participating in Election Collection, please contact Sarah Moncelle sarah@scsj.org. Not able to use the app on election day but still want to help? Learn more about the project here.

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/105528834[/vimeo]

Should Republicans Gain Control of the US Senate

senate

Should Republicans take control of the United States Senate there will be many political pundits faulting Democrats for their inability to get black voters to go the polls. Why won’t black voters go to the polls in large numbers? Well, it’s a non-presidential election which typically leads to low voter turnout by the party in the White House.

However, this year there is another subplot—black voters are disappointed with President Obama because they have been overlooked during his first six years. Former Harvard University professor Cornell West continues to be an ardent critic and excoriates the President’s record on black issues in his new book.

Dr. West and others point to efforts made by President Obama on behalf of other voting blocs. They rail about what he’s done for gays and lesbians because of his support for gay marriage and the significant legal battles won in recent years. However, the President’s support for same sex marriage was rather tepid during his first term in office. Some say he’s done more for Latinos with his commitment to immigration reform and his executive actions on behalf of Dreamers.

Yet, he passed on any further executive action and the numbers of immigrant deportees remain significantly high. It’s difficult to make the case that President Obama has completely ignored the concerns of black Americans with the aggressive actions taken on their behalf by Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department on the issues of voting rights and criminal justice reform. Did not the President recently launch “My Brother’s Keeper”, an initiative for boys and men of color?

In contemplating these “what have you done for me lately” propositions, it occurred to me that social workers might have some concerns as well. How are social workers feeling about the President? What should social workers expect from President Obama? It is well documented that African Americans and Latinos voted for President Obama in large numbers in both the 2008 and 2012 elections. In 2012, he received 71 percent of the Latino vote and 93 percent of the African American vote.

I have not found any data on the percentage of social workers who voted for President Obama, but I would believe that most social workers are progressive and that he received the majority of our votes. But we are not a large constituency, so why would Democrats care? At about three quarters of a million strong, social workers are not a voting bloc to be feared. However, with our skills at organizing and persuasion, we could easily be a force to reckon with. But right now, that’s potential.

Gay and lesbian voters have a clear agenda—equal rights, freedom to marry, and freedom from discrimination. Latinos have an agenda that is less clear but generally focused on finding a path to documentation if not citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants. They have more social and economic concerns, but providing some peace of minds for millions in this country illegally is a high priority.

Likewise, the are many social and economic problems plaguing African Americans, from high unemployment, to disproportionate criminal justice involvement, to low performing schools. However, it is unclear where the President should begin. What are the priorities? What are the policy prescriptions? Someone should have been working on these before President Obama was elected.

There are many social and economic challenges awaiting the next President who just might be Hillary Clinton. Now is the time to set priorities and identify potential policy remedies. What do social workers want from the President? Which issues are most important? But understand, while the President might be willing to support our initiatives, he or she will not do all the work for us.

We must be willing to provide policy ideas, the political strategy and be willing to take the lead on getting things done. That is what lobbyists do. Of course some lobbyists are able to reinforce their agendas by spreading around money, but nothing prevents social workers from helping to draft bills and nothing stops us from working to get more sponsors.

The Struggle For American Indian Voting Rights in South Dakota

Shannon County Vote
In places as isolated as Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations, these satellite offices are essential to making voting a possibility for most residents
Last month, the Oglala Sioux Nation filed a voting rights lawsuit with the federal government for failing to put a pre-election satellite voting and registration site on the portion of Pine Ridge Reservation which sits in Jackson County, South Dakota. Despite having money apportioned by the Help America Vote Act to address just this sort of issue, Jackson County has yet to place a satellite office in Wanblee, the largest Indian reservation town in the county. While at the same time, the largely white residential off-reservation county seat of Kadoka, which actually has a smaller population than Wanblee, maintains a satellite voting office. Instead of being able to vote within a reasonable distance of their community, the people of Wanblee have to travel 54 miles round-trip to register and cast their ballots. 54 mile in the cold, inhospitable snow of a South Dakota November on poorly maintained roads that are made of dirt as often as they are asphalt.

These are the sorts of bigotry, harassment and human rights violations faced on a regular basis  by American Indians seeking equal access to the ballot box. The discrimination that they endure is remarkably similar to that of African-Americans and Latinos, but odds are that you hadn’t been thinking about the voting rights of American Indians. In fact, outside of the #ChangeTheName controversy surrounding Washington DC’s professional football team, I doubt that American Indians have crossed many of your minds recently. This may be in part because there are only 1.9 million American Indians in this country and you don’t have much direct interaction with them, but I think it is also because the Civil Rights Movement in the United States during the fifties and sixties was almost exclusively an African-American movement.

What happens to an injustice unheard? On their own, many people—along with the local and state governments who represent them—will plug up their ears with cotton balls and blot out the sounds of injustice and oppression that surround them, while others still will hear the wails of injustice and track them down like bloodhounds so they can shove their hands over the mouths of the moaning. That’s why sometimes it becomes necessary for the Federal government to remove the cotton from the callous, cauliflowered ears of the oppressive and the bigoted and demand that they listen.

More so than any other civil right in America’s history, suffrage has required Federal intervention in order to be preserved and it is not a coincidence that the right to vote under the equal protection of the law is the focus of no less than four Constitutional amendments. The first two—the 14th and the 15th amendment—were forged in the fires of The Civil War and established during Reconstruction, a 12 year period where more than 2,000 African-American men held public office in the South. Of course, these political gains were only made possible by the physical presence of former Union soldiers in formerly Confederate towns and as soon as the Republican Party made their deal with the devil in 1877 and agreed to remove those troops in exchange for a Rutherford B. Hayes White House it was all over.

Almost overnight all trace of the black politician was swept away by poll taxes, literacy tests, Jim Crow laws and lynch mobs and black suffrage was suppressed for more than 75 years until the sacrifices of the Civil Rights Movement birthed the Voting Rights Act in an attempt to provide all Americans with equal voting rights and representation in government. Yet, even today, in what a startling number of young Americans consider a “post-racial” society, the percentage of African-American representation in Congress from southern states (11.25%)(1) is still considerably less than it was in 1870 (15%). And all of this was before the Supreme Court disassembled the Voting Rights Act and gave states that were once beholden to the federal government for preclearance of all voting laws free rein to disenfranchise people of color, the elderly and the poor.

There are many aspects of race-based voter discrimination that Chief Justice John Roberts and the other 4 men who voted to neuter the Voting Rights Act (VRA) last year wholly fail to comprehend or care about, but there are none more important than the fact that racism and oppression do not live in a vacuum and that past progress does not prevent against future regression. In his majority opinion for Shelby County v. Holder, Roberts reiterated time and time again the fact that, “things have changed dramatically” in the 50 years since the Voting Rights Act was created and consequently uses those changes as the principle reason why section 4 of the VRA should be struck down(2), as if the law’s efficacy was somehow grounds for rendering it toothless.

In his opinion, Roberts writes that, “the [15th] Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future,” failing to comprehend that this “punishment” is constantly being reinvoked by states and counties who continue to brazenly discriminate against their minority citizens. All a given state or county has to do is follow the VRA’s instructions and not get caught trying to engage in voter discrimination for 10 years in a row and they’re “bailed out” of Section 5. In effect, section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is the equivalent of probation and parole for state and local governments who have committed the crime of denying people of the right to free and equitable elections. If you get released from prison on 2 years parole for selling narcotics and your P.O. Catches you slinging dope, you’re going to be headed back to prison. It’s the same principle with discriminatory states under the VRA.

Of course, it shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone with even a tenuous grasp on reality that the states who were saddled with preclearance requirements under Section 5—and quite a few that weren’t—have wasted no time in enacting as many restrictive and discriminatory voting laws as possible since the Shelby County v Holder ruling. During the first year post-preclearance, 7 of the 9 states that were singled out under Section 5 of the VRA pushed through laws that restricted voting rights. States are enacting unnecessary and prohibitive voter ID laws, eliminating same-day registrations, purging qualified citizens from voter rolls and, as was recently the case in my home state of Ohio, cutting back early voting days for no just reason whatsoever.

If there is a silver lining to the fallout of the Supreme Court’s decision, it’s that it has lit a fire underneath many communities in America and it has directed the attention of the media and activists in ways that could result in enhanced voter turnout, higher political awareness andpossibly the passage of new legislation that makes the Voting Rights Act even more effective than it was before. However, the media coverage of the VRA and the efforts of the vast majority of voting rights litigators and scholars have focused almost exclusively on how the changes effect African-American and Latino voters.

This is certainly understandable considering the fact that they are the 2 largest racial minorities in America and that voter discrimination in both the past and present has impacted them in a greater and more visible way than any other section of American society, but it largely ignores the struggles of other minority groups who will suffer just as much from the Supreme Court’s weakening of the Voting Rights Act.

250 years ago, before the prolonged presence of American settlers, the Great Sioux Nation—known to its members as the “Oceti Ŝakowiŋ” or Seven Council Fires—held dominion over most of the Northern Plains.To the east, in what is now modern-day Minnesota, northern Iowa and the easternmost edge of the Dakotas, lived the Santee or Eastern Dakota. Next to them, in the eastern half of the Dakotas were the Yankton or Yanktonai, which are sometimes confusingly referred to as the Western Dakota. And then, beside them, in western portions of the Dakotas and Nebraska lived the Teton or Lakota people.

Within a hundred years time, the Great Sioux Nation had been effectively driven apart by white settlements and white soldiers. To make a long and bloody story short, the second half of the 19th Century was little more than an unbroken string of violated treaties wherein the United States took Sioux land that wasn’t theirs in exchange for the false promise of peace and security on the Sioux land that they planned to take in the future. In the span of roughly 100 years, the Great Sioux Nation had gone from a powerful group of allied tribes that could lay claim to much of the Great Plains to a collection of splintered and suppressed peoples who had been relegated to life on reservations on the parcels of their land that whites could find little use for.

Along with their land, the Sioux—and all of the tribes around them that were not wiped from the face of this earth by the inexorable hand of Manifest Destiny—lost their sovereignty and self-determination. In the days of the Seven Council Fires, the Sioux would hold intertribal councils during the summer months, with a spokesperson from each of the 7 tribes coming together to govern intertribal affairs. Each tribe was made up of several bands and the intertribal spokespeople were usually the chief of the most power band in their respective tribe. Once the reservation system had been imposed on them, the Sioux and all other American Indians(3) and (eventually) Alaskan Natives effectively became wards of the state and were treated as second class citizens in the eyes of the law.

Sioux reservation land from 1851 to today

Even after the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 made all American Indians US citizens and gave them the right to vote under the 14th and 15th amendments, most were still prohibited from voting. Many western states like Montana dealt with the threat of Indian suffrage by adding amendments to their state constitutions and forbidding American Indians on reservations from voting on the grounds that they were not considered taxpaying citizens.

Other states, like Wyoming and Arizona took pages out of the deep south’s playbook and instituted literacy tests as a means of halting American Indian suffrage. South Dakota didn’t even bother with masking it’s blatant bigotry and flouting of the Constitution by keeping a law on the books that prohibited all American Indians from voting until the 1940s, while the Utah Supreme Court ruled in 1956 that Indians could be barred from voting because they were, “neither acquainted with the processes of government, nor conversant with activities of the outside world generally.” And, even after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many American Indians faced open discrimination from state and local governments until an extension of the VRA was passed a decade later specifying coverage for “language minorities” like American Indians.

In 1975, two South Dakota counties—Shannon County and Todd County—were made subject to preclearance under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Both counties had a long history of voting discrimination and institutionalized racism and both were the homes of Indian reservations, with Shannon County containing the Pine Ridge Reservation and Todd County holding the Rosebud Reservation. If you’ve heard of either Pine Ridge or Rosebud before, it probably wasn’t for the best of reasons. Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations are living breathing testaments to the horrors of colonialism and the perpetual poverty that is guaranteed to communities with little-to-no socioeconomic resources. On the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations at least 80 percent of the population is unemployed, as many as 4 out of every 5 adults suffer from alcoholism and/or addiction, infant mortality is 3 times the national rate, suicide rates for youth are 10 times the national average and the life expectancy on Pine Ridge is lower than every other part of the Western Hemisphere besides Haiti.

As is often the case with socioeconomically depressed regions, the Oglala Sioux of Pine Ridge and the Sicangu Sioux of Rosebud, have experienced some of the most reprehensible attempts to eliminate or weaken their suffrage in America’s recent history. In 1975, long after the equal voting had become the law of the land and black voter turnout was hovering around 50% in presidential elections, the state of South Dakota was still prohibiting residents of almost exclusively Indian “unorganized counties” like Shannon, Todd and Washabaugh(4) from voting in the elections of the counties to which they were attached andprohibited residents of those counties from holding office until as late as 1980.

Shortly after the Voting Rights Act had been amended to cover American Indians, then South Dakota Attorney General William Janklow wrote a formal opinion to South Dakota’s Secretary of State, in which he referred to the Voting Rights Act as a “facial absurdity” and wrote that, “I cannot in good faith recommend that [the Secretary of State’s] office and the State Board of Elections be unnecessarily subjected to the bureaucratic agony of obtaining immediate preclearance of all voting legislation and regulations.”

In other words, South Dakota’s Attorney General just recommended that the state government ignore the requirements of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and hoped it would be repealed by Congress or declared unconstitutional in the near future. It would seem that South Dakota state officials heard Attorney General Janklow loud and clear as they enacted over 600 laws concerning elections and voting in Shannon and Todd Counties that were covered by Section 5 of the VRA between 1976 and 2002 and sent less than 2 percent of them to Washington for preclearance. In the words of former ACLU Voting Rights Project Director Laughlin McDonald, “Many jurisdictions in the South also failed to comply with Section 5 in the years following their coverage. But in none was the failure as deliberate and prolonged as in South Dakota.”

Over the past 30 years, the strategies of predominantly white governments, counties and municipalities in America for negating the impact of minority voting blocs have shifted from outright voter suppression to a more indirect approach. One of the preferred modes of neutralizing the American Indian vote has been voter dilution, a process by which a state, county or local government redraws their districts so as to concentrate as much of the American Indian population into as few districts as possible to lessen number of elections they can seriously effect. After the 2000 census, the South Dakota legislature put forth a redistricting plan that turned District 27, an overwhelmingly Indian district that contains Pine Ridge Reservation, from one of the most underpopulated districts into one of it’s most overpopulated.

To do this,the legislature made a change in the boundary lines between District 27 and District 26, another mostly Indian district that includes Rosebud Reservation, packing District 27 with American Indians and leaving them without a large enough population in District 26 to ensure that Indian-preferred candidates had a chance at winning.

Another way the existing white power structure in South Dakota is trying to disenfranchise American Indians is through the simple act of making it as difficult and inconvenient for them to vote as possible. This tactic, which manifests itself in other states through the enactment of stringent voter ID laws, reduced early voting days and the repeal of same-day registration, is primarily borne out in South Dakota through the failure to provide American Indians with satellite voting and registration offices, using tribes’s socioeconomic shortcomings against them.

Indian reservations are typically located in remote areas and are often self-contained, so that many of the people living on the reservation rarely, if ever, go outside of its borders. Beyond that, many American Indians don’t have access to a car to reach far off polling places and, even if they did, might find they’re unable to scrounge up the gas money to make the trip.

For those who are skeptical, I urge you to take note of the events from the Civil Rights era that come to mind. When I think on it, the images I see are of sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina and bloody marches in Selma, Alabama; I envision Dr. King speaking of his dreams in front of a packed National Mall and I think about the bodies of 3 civil rights workers being buried on a hot Mississippi night during Freedom Summer. At no point do I think about “No Indians or Dogs Allowed signs” in Wyoming during the 1960s or the Occupation of Wounded Knee, because these things aren’t part of our mainstream narrative of civil rights in America.

They aren’t part of our narrative, but they should be. Civil rights movements are not mutually exclusive and there is no cause too remote or removed from our personal experience to be fought. Many of us may not live near a reservation or interact with American Indians in our daily lives, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold ourselves as responsible for their voting rights as we do any other race or ethnicity. First and foremost, voter discrimination is not a southern problem; nor is it an African-American problem, a Latino problem or an American Indian problem. It is an American problem and it’s about time we treated it as such.

Rock the Disabled Vote in South Carolina!

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

2014 is a midterm election year, and it is imperative for South Carolinians with disabilities to rock the disabled vote!  Voting is our civil right in this country, and you should not be prevented to exercise this right simply because you have a disability.

Your Vote Is Your Voice 1With the June 2014 SC Primary coming upon us, I wanted to ensure that every registered disabled voter in the state was aware of their rights in regards to accessibility, the new Photo ID requirement, and how to file a complaint if your civil rights are violated.  Equal access and justice when it comes to education, healthcare, and employment are just a few key issues that will be affected by how we as citizens vote this year.

People with disabilities are the LARGEST minority group in this country, and make up over 648,000 strong in the Palmetto state; this means that we are an undeniably important voting bloc, and our voting power has to be exercised, now more than ever.


Accessible Voting Machines & Polling Places:

Voting Machines

Each South Carolina voting precinct offers accessible voting machines that has the following features:  audio ballot, headphones, and Braille-embossed buttons. The voting machine’s design makes it user-friendly; and each machine has large fonts, a 15-inch full-color touch screen display, and is lightweight to be portable for curbside and tabletop use.

Polling Places

Each South Carolina county election commission has an obligation to find polling places that are accessible to ALL voters.  For every election season, increasing accessibility at polling places is a priority.  Such accessibility considerations include:

  • Wider entrance doors
  • Entrance ramps and curb cuts
  • Railing along the stairs and sidewalks
  • Paved parking and designated disability parking
  • Van accessible parking spaces
  • Sidewalks from the parking spaces to the building entrance
  • Door handles that can be opened with a closed fist
  • Signs to direct the voter to entrances that are accessible
  • Electronic curbside call systems

Voting Accommodations:

Receiving Assistance When Voting

Voters with disabilities including those with visual impairments, and literacy difficulties, have the right to seek assistance during the voting process.  If you fit into any of these groups, you must inform the poll manager(s) that you will require assistance to vote.  You have the right to choose anyone to assist you in casting your ballot except the following persons:  your employer, an agent to your employer, an officer of your union, or an agent of your union.

If you have a hearing impairment, you have the right to request printed instructions to cast your vote.  The poll manager(s) is required to have this documentation on hand to distribute, as needed.

Curbside Voting

If you are unable to access your assigned polling place or stand in line to vote due to your disability, you may cast your vote from your vehicle.  You do not need to have a disabled parking placard to access the curbside voting option.  Poll managers are supposed to monitor the designated curbside voting location every 15 minutes.  Unless you require assistance to cast your vote, only you are permitted to be in the vehicle while voting.  Your driver and other passengers who may be with you are not entitled to receive this accommodation unless they meet the qualifications (disability status and/or being age 65 or older).

The Photo ID Requirement –  Know Your Options:

2014 will be the first election year in South Carolina where Photo IDs will be required to be shown in order to vote.  When voting in person, the following forms of photo identification will be accepted:

  • SC Driver’s License
  • SC Department of Motor Vehicles ID Card
  • Voter Registration Card with Photo
  • Federal Military ID
  • U.S. Passport

If You Do Not Have a Photo ID

You can get a Photo ID for FREE from your county voter registration and elections office OR your local Department of Motor Vehicles office.

If You Forget to Bring Your Photo ID to Your Polling Place

You have the option to vote a provisional ballot that will count only if you show your Photo ID to the elections commission prior to certification of the election (usually Thursday or Friday after the election).

For the June 2014 SC Primary, you will need to show your Photo ID to your county election commission by Thursday, June 12th before 1:00 p.m.  

For the November 2014 General Elections, you will need to do so by Friday, November 7th before 1:00 p.m..  

If You Cannot Obtain a Photo ID

If you are unable to obtain a Photo ID due to your disability status, you may be able to state that you have a reasonable impediment because of your status.  A reasonable impediment is any valid reason, beyond your control, which has created an obstacle for you to obtain a Photo ID.

How this works

Bring your non-photo voter registration card with you to your designated polling venue, and inform the poll manager(s) about not being able to acquire a Photo ID.  You will be giving the opportunity to vote a provisional ballot after signing an affidavit, stating your claim for reasonable impediment.

Your provisional ballot will be counted UNLESS someone proves to your county election commission that you lied about your identity or having the impediment.

Other qualifying circumstances for this exception includes:

  • Conflict with work schedule
  • Lack of transportation
  • Lack of birth certificate
  • Family responsibilities
  • Religious objection to being photographed
  • And any other obstacle you find reasonable

Considering Voting Absentee?:  

Voting absentee is a great option for those who have a disability and/or are elderly, limited transportation options, and/or do not have a photo ID.

Request an Absentee Application

You may request an absentee application by mail or in-person.  If you decide to obtain your absentee application by mail, you can make your request by phone to your county voter registration office, or get the application online.

Once you have received your absentee application, you must complete and sign it, and return it to your county voter registration office as soon as possible.  (Return your application no later than 5:00 p.m. on the 4th day prior to the election.  The 4th day is Friday for all Tuesday elections.)  You may return your application several ways:  by mail, email, fax, or personal delivery.

Completing Your Absentee Ballot

Once your absentee application have been received and processed, you will be mailed an absentee ballot.  In your absentee ballot packet, you will find ballot instructions that will inform you on how to cast your vote absentee.  Once you have completed your ballot, you may either mail it or return it in-person.  You can also designate someone to return the ballot to your county voter registration office on your behalf; be sure to complete the authorization to return absentee ballot form that is in your packet for this option.

If You Experience Voting Discrimination:

Unfortunately, voting discrimination is alive and well in 2014, despite the plethora of federal laws that exist to combat this issue.  If you experience voting discrimination because you are a person with a disability, you have the right to file a complaint at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).  The DOJ takes every complaint and report of your civil rights violation seriously.

The Voting Section of the DOJ oversees possible violations of the federal voting rights laws.  Below are the various ways in which you can file your voting complaint:

  • By telephone (toll free):  (800) 253-3931
  • By telephone:  (202) 307-2767
  • By fax:  (202) 307-3961
  • By letter to the addresses below:

U.S. Postal Service mail (this includes certified and express mail) should be sent to:

Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Room 7254 – NWB
959 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20530

Deliveries by overnight express services (such as Airborne, DHL, Federal Express, or UPS) should be sent to:

Voting Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
Room 7254 – NWB
1800 G St., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006


Where to Learn More About Voting with a Disability in South Carolina:

Most of the information provided in this article was obtained from the SC Votes webpage.  SC Votes has a special tab on its website for voters with disabilities, where you can learn more about voting assistance and curbside voting, watch helpful videos, obtain instructions for voters who are deaf or hard of hearing, and print a large voter registration application.  You can also learn about key deadlines for this election year by reviewing the SC Election Calendar.


For My Non-South Carolinian Disabled Voters:

If you would like to know more about voting with a disability, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) has a great resource page for voters with disabilities:  http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/resources_for_voters_with_disabilities.aspx


Remember, an informed voter is an 
EMPOWERED voter.  Rock your right to vote!

(Featured headline image:  Courtesy of  Your Mira.)

NC NAACP Responds to The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014

DURHAM – While the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP appreciates the fact that a bipartisan effort has been made to amend and update the 1965 Voting Rights Act, we have some serious concerns and objections to the proposal which has just been introduced in the U.S. Congress. On January 16, 2014, Congressmen John Conyers (D-MI), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and other co-sponsors introduced legislation which is intended to replace Section 4 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

NC NAACP Marching on Jones Street 2013
NC NAACP Marching on Jones Street 2013

This provision was declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in its recent Shelby County v. Holder decision. That decision had the effect of gutting the Section 5 pre-clearance mandate of the Voting Rights Act. Since 1965, the Section 5 mandate had been successfully used by the United States Department of Justice and Civil Rights organizations to prevent covered jurisdictions from enacting voting laws and regulations which had the effect of discriminating against racial minorities.

A preliminary examination of the proposed provisions of this legislation convinces us that it falls woefully short of what is needed to protect all people from race-based efforts to curtail the voting potential of people of color. We certainly see this proposal as a starting point, there is much work to be done before these provisions can be deemed to be equivalent to the protections which Section 5 provided over the years.

Any voting rights proposal which does not recognize and address the widespread voting suppression efforts which are presently occurring in North Carolina is defective. As presently written, the proposal would not mandate that North Carolina be designated as a jurisdiction which would be subject to pre-clearance. This is the State which leads the country in recognized and judicially determined voting rights violations since the introduction of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. This long history dates back to the landmark cases of Thornburg v. Gingles in 1986 and Shaw v. Hunt in 1992. In response to the passage of the most sweeping voter suppression legislation in the United States, North Carolina is presently being sued in State and federal courts for enacting laws designed to curtail the votes of racial minorities. Passage of this proposed legislation would have the effect of endorsing the race-based actions of the North Carolina General Assembly. The North Carolina State Conference of Branches of the NAACP is not willing to accept any legislation which does not mandate that North Carolina is designated as a covered jurisdiction.

Another major defect with this proposed legislation is the exemption that the law would provide for voter identification statutes. Voter ID is an abhorrent and offensive to voting rights as were poll taxes and the literacy tests which are now outlawed by the Voting Rights Acts. The exemption which the bill drafters seek to give to Voter ID legislation is no more than a pandering to right wing regressive political forces who are the present-day architects of voter suppression efforts around the country.

As written, this bill does not protect the rights of racial minorities against discrimination at the polls. As the nation’s oldest and largest Civil Rights organization with a massive membership base, we have the responsibility to insure that any legislation which is enacted must protect the best interests of our members, our community and the democratic principles espoused in our constitution. Our mission is to stand on the side of equal protection under the law and not to merely celebrate political compromise, especially where it has the intent or effect of undermining our hard-won political victories. In that light, this legislation looks like an effort to proclaim that this is the best that we can do with these Republicans in power rather than being drafted from the perspective of “how do we maximize political protections for racial minorities which are consistent with our constitution and the 1965 Voting rights act?”. Political protections in our democracy should be unfettered, the rights of every voter should be recognized and every vote must be properly counted.

Accordingly, we plan to meet with North Carolina’s elected leaders in the U.S. House and Senate as well as our National NAACP leadership to amend and fix this proposed legislation. We have already contacted other State Branches of the NAACP and other Civil Rights organizations who oppose and/or support this proposal. It is our plan to fight as hard to amend and fix this proposal as we are presently fighting against the voter suppression efforts here in North Carolina.

One of the most important and fundamental rights of racial minorities is the right to vote. Since the NAACP was organized in 1909, voting rights has been at the top of our agenda and it remains in that position today. Voting rights is the life-blood of a vibrant and politically connected people and we will not stand by passively and allow political compromise to destroy the hard-gained victories for voting rights for racial minorities in this country. We look forward to an opportunity to engage in the debate about this proposed legislation as this idea moves through the legislative process. We will call upon the 1,200 NAACP units from around the country to monitor their districts for additional evidence of racially discriminatory voting practices in their locales which can serve as further examples of the concerns and objections which we presently have about this proposal.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. The NC Conference of NAACP Branches is 70 years old this year and is made up of over 100 Adult, Youth and College NAACP units across the state, convenes the more than 150 members of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) Peoples Assembly Coalition, and is the architect of the Moral Monday & Forward Together Movement.

For More Information: Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II, President, 919 394 8137
Atty. Jamie Cole, Public Policy Coordinator, 919 682 4700

For Media Assistance: Laurel Ashton, Field Secretary, 828 713 3864

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

Exit mobile version