December 2, 2016

Non-profit offers voter protection

As Voting rights lawyer Denise Lieberman gave a presentation on voting rights on Washington University’s campus Sept. 8, the Supreme Court decision was handed down for a case that she was litigating.

The ruling handed down was in regards to a North Carolina voting rights change that restricted same day voting registration and early voting from another precinct and required a photo ID. The Supreme Court ruled that the law would be active for this November’s election.

Lieberman said it speaks to the state of voting right now.

“At the end of the day, I think the place that we are in right now is really about whether voting is a privilege, something you have to earn and jump through hoops to obtain,” Lieberman said, “Or whether voting is a right that the government is required to make accessible for you as much as possible, and I think it’s the ladder.”

This decision was one of four decisions handed down just a month ahead of the November elections which will make it more difficult for voters in three states —Texas, North Carolina and Ohio. For these states, voting laws have now changed, which can cause problems, but Lieberman said problems can occur in states like Missouri, where voting laws have remained fairly consistent.

To help people who do not know all of the voting rights, a non-partisan national organization called Election Protection offers assistance.

Lieberman runs the Missouri branch of Election Protection. On election days, the nonprofit provides a hotline service with attorneys on staff to answer questions, and volunteers at the polling locations that help with any problems that might occur throughout the day.

For this year’s elections, Lieberman said Election Protection will be monitoring the elections that are expected to have bigger crowds. She said races in St. Louis county and  issues in Ferguson could create similar issues during this year’s election.

In addition to informing people about their rights and requirements to vote, Election Protection keeps an eye on police presence during elections. Lieberman said that with the sensitivity to police presence everywhere right now, that focus will be epically keen.

“Particularly in communities of color, an active police presence in at the polling places harkens back to some very troubling memories of the Civil Rights Era,” said Lieberman.

She does not believe that officers will create barriers of keep people from voting. But in 2008, when such communities had record turnouts for Election Day, Lieberman said people who had to wait for up to seven hours were being ticketed for parking too long, being intimidated by the police and told by their employers that they would be fired for missing work to vote.

In an effort to avoid these situations, Lieberman’s group meets with election officials before Election Day to discuss potential problem areas in the state. In the early years of the program, she had to organize the meetings, but this year the officials approached her. She said that change is the key for her organization.

“That’s exactly what you want, election officials wanting to sit down to get information from the community about what they are seeing and hearing,” said Lieberman.

In addition to these obstacles, Lieberman said that misinformation was spread through social media. She said some of these misnomers still linger, and her organization can help clear these up.

The number for Election Protection is 1-866-OUR-VOTE, and they will have voting rights lawyers available on Election Day, but they are still in need of volunteers to be available at the polling places. Training will be on the weekend before the election, and they will offer emergency training for late volunteers on the Monday before the election.

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