ACLU Urges U.S. To Address Voting Rights For Minorities

November 12, 2009 12:00 am

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Recommendations Presented At Annual United Nations Forum

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today urged the U.S. government to address lingering obstacles to voting rights for minorities, including enforcing anti-discrimination provisions of the Voting Rights Act and eliminating barriers to vote based on criminal records. The recommendations were presented at the annual United Nations Forum on Minority Issues, which this year focused on political participation.

The ACLU submission includes analysis and recommendations to end felony disfranchisement, the practice of denying the right to vote to individuals with felony convictions, which has a serious and disproportionate effect on the voting power of minority communities. Laws vary in severity from state to state, but taken together legally bar more than 5 million Americans from voting. A lack of clarity and public education leads many more formerly incarcerated individuals to incorrectly believe they are disfranchised. The over-representation of people of color in the criminal justice system – resulting from punitive sentencing policies, the over-policing of communities of color and other factors – leads people and communities of color to suffer disproportionally from this barrier to voting. In its submission, the ACLU calls on Congress to pass the Democracy Restoration Act of 2009, a bill that would restore voting rights in federal elections to millions of Americans who continue to be denied their ability to fully participate in civic life.

The ACLU also presented findings from a recent report – Voting Rights in Indian Country – which documents continued discriminatory policies and actions against American Indians that deny them their constitutional right to vote. The report provides a historical overview of systemic discrimination against American Indians by limiting their ability to participate in local, state and national elections and highlights ACLU litigation challenging unlawful election practices on behalf of Indians. The report exposed electoral systems that dilute Indian voting strength, discriminatory voter registration procedures, onerous voter identification requirements, lack of language assistance at the polls and noncompliance with the Voting Rights Act.

The U.N. Forum on Minority Issues is an annual gathering that takes place in Geneva, Switzerland and provides a platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation on issues pertaining to national, ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and makes recommendations on steps to promote minority rights worldwide. This year, the Forum will be chaired by U.S. Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) and will include over 400 participants.

The following can be attributed to Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program:

“The U.S. government has historically failed to protect the voting rights of people with felony convictions, residents of certain geographic territories and the millions of voters who continue to be disfranchised due to their race or ethnicity. The U.S. cannot consider itself a model democracy while so many of its citizens are denied the human right to participate in the political process. The Obama administration has thankfully committed to fully enforcing the Voting Rights Act. This is an important first step in removing the barriers to the fundamental human right to vote and ensuring the effective participation of minority communities in the democratic process.”

The following can be attributed to Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project:

“No public interest is served by making persons who commit crimes permanent political outcasts. Restoring voting rights is an important step in rehabilitation and reducing rates of recidivism. Though the movement for equal rights has led to dramatic gains for Indian voters and transformed elected bodies that serve Indian communities, much work remains. Well into the 20th century, American Indians’ status as U.S. citizens was questioned across the U.S. and they continue to struggle against ongoing disfranchisement and discriminatory election practices that prevent them from participating equally in the political process.”

The following can attributed to Rachel Bloom, advocacy coordinator with the ACLU Racial Justice Program:

“Felony disfranchisement is devastating, not only for minority individuals but also for entire minority communities. Incarcerated individuals tend to come from – and return to – a relatively small number of low-income, under-resourced communities of color, so entire communities suffer the consequences of fewer eligible voters and reduced political power. As such, felony disfranchisement policies constitute a serious barrier to political participation for minorities in the United States.”

The ACLU submission to the U.N. Forum on Minority Issues is available here: www.aclu.org/human-rights-voting-rights/aclu-submission-un-forum-minority-issues-human-rights-council-second-sess

The ACLU report, Voting Rights in Indian Country, is available here: www.aclu.org/pdfs/votingrights/indiancountryreport.pdf

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