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Churches register voters, combat disenfranchisement

1st October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Zoe Sullivan
Contributing Writer

Voter ID laws have passed in 30 states. The first such law passed in 2006 in Indiana and mandated that voters present a photo ID. Among the 30 states with ID laws stand Texas, Ohio and Florida. The latter two battlegrounds swirled in controversy around voter disenfranchisement after the 2000 and 2004 elections. Critics of voter ID laws point out that it is generally the poor and the elderly who lack government-issued photo IDs such as drivers’ licenses. Attorney General Eric Holder likened these laws to Jim-Crow era poll taxes, and New York Univ­ersity’s Brennan Center for Justice has pointed out that those in rural communities can also be adversely affected. Further, statistics demonstrate that the concern is overblown. News21, a national investigative reporting outlet, reviewed 2,068 cases of alleged election fraud since 2000, but its analysis revealed only 10 voter impersonation cases. This translates to an incidence of one in 15 million voters.

Let My People Vote is a counter-offensive to this wave of restrictions. Let My People Vote is a national effort focused on registering voters particularly among low-income communities and communities of color.

In New Orleans, the Micah Project is one of the organizations participating in the project. Let My People Vote was launched by the PICO National Network. PICO stands for “People Improving Communities Through Organiz­ing.” Daniel Schwartz, Executive Director of the Micah Project, told The Louisiana Weekly that his group is partnering with 13 New Orleans-area congregations to register voters. Some of the churches involved include the Community Missionary Baptist Church, the Greater King Solomon Missionary Baptist Church, Household of Faith, and St. Mary of the Angels Catholic Church.

“Our goal with the national network is to turn out one million people to vote their values,” Schwartz explained. “Primarily, we’re looking to mobilize communities of color to make sure that their voices are heard at the voting booth. It’s also trying to raise awareness about efforts that are being made to put stumbling blocks in front of communities of color.”

Schwartz said that on National Voter Registration Day, September 25, Micah’s members registered 80 people and spoke with roughly 300. Thus far, he said, Micah’s registration drive has added roughly 430 new voters to the rolls.

This Sunday, September 30, according to a press release from PICO, clergy will make it possible for their congregants to register to vote while at church. More than 200 congregations across the country are expected to participate. The release also states that “ More than 12,000 voters are expected to be registered during the one-day national event.”

The Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, director of clergy organizing for the PICO National Network, affirmed the importance of this work in the press release. “Many of our brothers and sisters facing voter suppression laws in Colorado, Pennsylvania and many other states are still fighting for their right to vote freely and without discrimination.” Matthews went on: “The right to vote is a hard-won and clearly fragile one. So let us honor this precious right by exercising it, and making sure that no one misses their chance.”

For Schwartz, while this registration is important, it is a step in a longer-term organizing plan. He told The Louisiana Weekly that Micah plans to “take our learning to prepare a voter engagement campaign on a larger scale for the 2014 city elections.” He pointed out that those elections will include the mayor and the sheriff, “key stakeholders impacting the city’s criminal justice system through 2020.”

“We want to make sure that as many people as possible are participating in these elections so that voices of moderate and low-income communities are represented,” Schwartz explained.

As part of its voter engagement campaign, Micah will be holding candidate forums on October 25 and 29. The group is also planning canvass activities in New Orleans East and the Jackson Avenue area between Magazine and Tchoup­itoulas Streets and welcomes volunteers, according to Schwartz.

This article was originally published in the October 1, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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