Defending Minorities against Voting Rights Restrictions: The Advancement Project Shows the Way

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August 26, 2013; Politico


All hail the nonprofit advocacy organizations that really know how to advocate! It seems that the Advancement Project, a civil rights advocacy organization based in Washington and San Francisco, is taking the advocacy lead on a number of initiatives concerning racial justice, earning one of its founders this year’s John Gardner award from Independent Sector.

The Advancement Project is taking an aggressive, active stance toward fighting the efforts of states that have enacted restrictive voter ID and other election laws, such as those in North Carolina and Texas. In every case, these steps were taken by states with Republican governors in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Despite the Supreme Court’s decision, the Obama administration’s Justice Department has announced a lawsuit to prevent Texas from implementing its voter ID law and hinted that it will file against North Carolina’s even more restrictive plan.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced that his department “will not allow the Supreme Court’s recent decision to be interpreted as open season for states to pursue measures that suppress voting rights.” He pledged during his speech last weekend at the March on Washington rally that “the struggle must and will go on in the cause of our nation’s quest for justice, until every eligible American has the chance to exercise his or her right to vote, unencumbered by discriminatory or unneeded procedures, rules or practices.”

While the Advancement Project wouldn’t say this, it seems to us that the groundwork for Justice’s Texas lawsuit, and hopefully one to follow against North Carolina, draws on some of the very strong work done during the past couple of years by the Advancement Project, standing up to voter intimidation challenges from True the Vote, identifying restrictions on Latino voting rights, and putting a team of poll watchers in the field during the 2012 elections. That’s one of the purposes of nonprofit advocacy: not just to press government to do something, but to pave the path for government action by highlighting issues and taking action that demonstrates to government what should be done.

Look at the important report released by the Advancement Project this week, which documents the practices of many states to restrict voting rights, including those several states that have enacted restrictions this year, such as Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Dakota, plus efforts to strengthen or revive voter restrictions in Indiana and Florida. It reflects the work of the Advancement Project—and its allies such as the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, which co-sponsored the study—challenging these laws wherever they appear, documenting exactly what they would do to voter turnout and participation, and revealing the motivations of the states.

Writing for Politico, David Nather called the Justice litigation against Texas and perhaps North Carolina as “Obama’s big voting rights gamble.” The work of the Advancement Project seems to warrant describing this not as a gamble, but “Obama’s big voting rights mandate.” –Rick Cohen