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Re: Preventing Wrongful Voter Intimidation and Voter Challenges this Election Year

Dear Mr. Priebus and Ms. Wasserman Schultz,
On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, we write to urge you to take immediate steps to encourage all Americans to vote and to prevent wrongful voter challenges and intimidation this election year. You must stand firm, as the civil rights community did in the 1960s, against attempts to suppress any voter from exercising his or her right to vote.


The Leadership Conference is a nonpartisan coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States. We are committed to eliminating barriers to voting by working with community organizations, election officials, and national partners. Below, we briefly address some of the key problems faced by voters this election cycle and identify how you can help protect voting rights in 2012.
As the chairs of our nation’s two major political parties, you play a fundamental role in shaping the political direction of our nation, the operation of the electoral system, the standards for Election Day poll workers and watchers sanctioned by each party, and thus, the major ways through which most people will experience voting in our nation. This is why we are asking you to ensure that every citizen has an equal and fair opportunity to vote.
The Trajectory of Recent Voting Barriers
Over the past several years, voters in our country have faced a growing list of new voting barriers.[1] Many of these practices were identified in 2004.[2] At the time, we observed a resurgence of voter suppression techniques developed to manipulate the voting process and disenfranchise voters.[3] Since then, we have witnessed a new wave of legislation and policies restricting voting rights in numerous states across the country, in a manner that our nation has not seen in decades.[4] In addition to these policies, new groups of activists have, in the name of “voter integrity,” developed new practices and techniques that have the effect of suppressing the vote and intimidating voters, especially racial minorities and already marginalized communities.[5] We therefore urge you to take a strong stance against the spread of misinformation, voter intimidation, and other practices that make it harder for eligible citizens to vote.
Prevent Voter Intimidation Inside the Voting Booth
We are particularly concerned with instances in which political parties and their organizational allies conduct their work in a way that is likely to intimidate or misinform voters. Organizations like True the Vote and its affiliates, which have expanded the depth and reach of their voter challenge programs in advance of this election, are especially troubling.[6] True the Vote has said it will deploy one million poll watchers this year.[7] In many jurisdictions, such as Texas, poll watchers may be assigned only by political parties. Recent reports, such as those covering the poll challenger training captured on video in New Mexico,[8] and those documenting inaccurate and misleading training manuals for poll watchers in Wisconsin[9] have cause a great deal of concern and demonstrated how partisan interests can violate voting rights protections when political parties do not follow proper rules and procedures This is unacceptable and we call on you to ensure that poll watchers are assigned on a non-discriminatory basis to all precincts and are properly trained. It is especially important that these poll watchers do not talk to voters and do not cause delay or otherwise disrupt the voting process.
It is well documented that aggressive voter challenges frequently amount to voter suppression and create a situation where voters face intimidating situations.[10] As one fact sheet on voter challenges explains, “[t]oo often, aggressive challenges done for partisan gain give way to abuse, unfounded accusations, and can lead to eligible voters being turned away.”[11] Aggressive challenges consume already limited resources that should be utilized for free, fair and accessible elections, and can prevent access to the voting booth for eligible citizens. Whether through the political parties directly, or through organizations which you may come in contact with, such as True the Vote, we ask that you take a stand against practices that are likely to lead to voter suppression.
Prevent Voter Intimidation Outside the Voting Booth
In recent weeks we have observed numerous instances of intimidating or misleading information about voting. In Ohio and Wisconsin, for example, there have been reports of numerous billboards stationed in minority communities that have the effect of intimidating voters.[12] These billboards read, “VOTER FRAUD IS A FELONY,” and list criminal penalties.[13] These billboards send the wrong message to voters, and given their placement in minority communities, appeared intended to intimidate and discourage minority voters from participating this election year. Fortunately, after a significant effort by local citizens, those anonymously funded billboards have been taken down, but some of the damage may already have been done. We ask you to take a strong stance against such practices. There should be clear, nonpartisan limits to what behavior is—and is not—acceptable with regard to voting rights in our country.
Reorient Your Work to Protect and Promote Voting
The types of voter suppression practices we have identified foster an environment of fear and disillusionment, and challenge the legitimacy of our democracy. This is why we ask you take the following essential steps:
1. Conduct public outreach about voting rights and legal protections against improper challenges and voter intimidation;
2. Ensure proper training of any poll watchers sponsored by your parties;
3. Investigate and correct any instances of misinformation about voting laws and in particular, misinformation by third parties that could lead to challenges based on eligibility, including list maintenance challenges; and
4. Ensure that poll watchers follow the law, do not raise frivolous or undue challenges, and refrain from intimidation.
Oppose Employer Threats and Coercion of Employees’ Civic Participation
Many news stories have documented a disturbing new trend of employers coercing their employees to vote for particular candidates, through sometimes threatening communications sent by email or included in pay envelopes.[14] In at least one case, employees were forced to give up a paid work day to attend a rally on behalf of presidential candidate Mitt Romney and even pressured to contribute to his campaign.[15] No one should face threats and coercion from their employers in making their decisions on voting and civic participation. We urge you to use your positions to discourage such actions.
Welcome Legitimate Election Observers
Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott publically threatened to arrest observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.[16] The founder of True the Vote, whose activities have raised significant concerns about voter intimidation, has also criticized the presence of international observers.[17] There is no reason to resist the presence of international observers or to sound false alarms about their intentions. In fact, in light of the extensive voting restriction efforts observed this year, The Leadership Conference has welcomed the presence of OSCE observers “to ensure that we live up to our role as the world’s greatest democracy.”[18] As National Public Radio has noted, the OSCE “observed elections in 2004 and in 2008. The last time around, they found that the election process was a ‘convincing demonstration of the country's commitment to democracy.’”[19]
Voter intimidation and wrongful voter challenges erode our electoral system. As the chairs of the nation’s political parties, you have a responsibility to use your influence to protect our nation’s voting rights. The steps we are asking you to follow are essential to ensuring free and fair elections. Anything less fuels the worst divisions of our political system and prevents our diverse communities from working together toward a better future. By working together, we will ensure that all voters have an equal and fair opportunity to participate in the political process this election year—and beyond.
Please let us know what steps you will take to prevent wrongful voter challenges and intimidation during the upcoming presidential election. Please also let us know if you have any questions or would like further information.
Sincerely,
Wade Henderson Nancy Zirkin
President & CEO Executive Vice President
________________________________________
[1] See Wendy R. Weiser and Lawrence Norden, “Voting Law Changes in 2012,” Brennan Center (October 3, 2011), http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/voting_law_changes_in_2012.
[2] See Judith A. Browne-Dianis, Voting in 2004: Report to the Nation on America’s Election Process (December 7, 2004), http://www.advancementproject.org/page/-/resources/reptonat.pdf .
[3] Id.
[4] See, e.g., Wendy R. Weiser and Lawrence Norden, “Voting Law Changes in 2012,” Brennan Center (October 3, 2011), http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/voting_law_changes_in_2012/ ; Advancement Project, “What’s Wrong with this Picture?: New Photo ID Proposals Part of National Push to Turn Back the Clock,” (April 13, 2011), http://b.3cdn.net/advancement/04b36eb4438666daac_ijm6bt0wf.pdf; Advancement Project, “Segregating American Citizenship: Latino Voter Disenfranchisement in 2012” (September 24, 2012), http://b.3cdn.net/advancement/691d4ca5f1fb88ac7f_gum6yz1ie.pdf.
[5] See, e.g., Advancement Project Voter Protection Program, Segregating American Citizenship: Latino Voter Disenfranchisement 2012, at http://b.3cdn.net/advancement/691d4ca5f1fb88ac7f_gum6yz1ie.pdf  (citing various sources ).
[6] See Hatty Lee, “Infographic: True the Vote’s Spreading Campaign to Intimidate Voters in 2012,” ColorLines.com (August 23, 2012), http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/08/infographic_true_the_vote_network_in_2012.html .
[7] See Abby Rapoport, “What’s the Truth about True the Vote?,” American Prospect (October 10, 2012), http://prospect.org/article/whats-truth-about-true-vote ; Stephanie Saul, “Looking, Very Closely, for Voter Fraud,” NY Times (September 16, 2012), http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/17/us/politics/groups-like-true-the-vote-are-looking-very-closely-for-voter-fraud.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 ; Mariah Blake , “The Ballot Cops,” The Atlantic (October 2012), http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/the-ballot-cops/309085/;  Brentin Mock, “How the Tea Party’s Building a ‘Poll Watcher’ Network for November” (August 23, 2012), http://colorlines.com/archives/2012/08/true_the_votes_large_and_growing_far-right_network.html.
[8] See, e.g., ProgressNow NM, “VIDEO: GOP Caught Training Poll Challengers in Illegal Voter Suppression Tactics” (October 3, 2012), http://www.progressnownm.org/blog/2012/10/gop-trains-poll-workers-to-suppress-votes.html ; ProgressNow NM, “UPDATE: True The Vote Teams Up With GOP For Secret Training” (October 5, 2012), http://www.progressnownm.org/blog/2012/10/update-true-the-vote-teams-up-with-gop-for-secret-training.html.

[9]See, e.g., Michael Isikoff, Wisconsin Objects to Romney Training Manual Urging Incognito Poll Watchers, NBC News (Oct. 31, 2012), at http://openchannel.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/10/30/14812255-wisconsin-objects-to-romney-training-manual-urging-incognito-poll-watchers#.UJCI0RrPu4o.reddit  (discussing incorrect information about voting rights disseminated to poll watchers).
[10] See, e.g., Liz Kennedy, et. al, “Bullies at The Ballot Box: Protecting The Freedom To Vote Against Wrongful Challenges And Intimidation,” (September 19, 2012), http://www.demos.org/publication/bullies-ballot-box-protecting-freedom-vote-against-wrongful-challenges-and-intimidation .
[11] See Advancement Project, “Know Your Rights! Don’t Get Challenged at the Polls!,” http://b.3cdn.net/advancement/d7a70d5e9bf84aa6cd_c2m6bh067.pdf.
[12] See Letter to Jim Cullinan, Vice President, Marketing and Communications, Clear Channel (October 15, 2012) (on file); see also Stan Donaldson, “Washington group asks for Clear Channel to remove voter fraud billboards,” The Plain Dealer (October 10, 2012), http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2012/10/washington_group_asks_for_clea.html.
[13] Id.
[14] “Can Your Employer Tell You How You Should Vote?” Article 3, Sona Makker, October 29, 2012
[15] “Coal Miner’s Donor: A Mitt Romney benefactor and his surprisingly generous employees,” The New Republic, Alec MacGillis, October 4, 2012.
[16] “Texas Attorney General Tells. U.N. Election Observers to Keep Their Distance,” Forbes, Christopher Helman, October 23, 2012
[17] “International monitors at US polling spots draw criticism from voter fraud groups,” The Hill, Alexander Bolton, October 20, 2012.
[18] “Civil and Human Rights Coalition Applauds International Monitoring of U.S. Elections,” press release, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, October 22, 2012
[19] “Texas Attorney General Sends Warning to International Election Observers,” Eyder Peralta, National Public Radio, October 24, 2012. See also, Press Conference, International Observers of the U.S. elections, Nov 6, 2008, http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/Observe .

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