With political analysts agreeing that voter turnout, especially of minority and youth voters, will likely determine the outcome of next Tuesday’s presidential election, civil and human rights groups are pressing the Republican National Committee (RNC) to call off plans aimed at discouraging people from casting ballots.
At a press conference held in front of RNC headquarters here Thursday, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the country’s largest civil and human-rights coalition, demanded that RNC chairman Ed Gillespie ensure that the party does nothing to suppress the vote or try to intimidate voters, particularly in minority communities.
“In state after state, Republican officials and operatives are working to deny American citizens the right to vote,” charged LCCR executive director Wade Henderson. “We’re today to ask the RNC Chairman to put a stop to these activities.”
Ohio Republican party has already challenged the validity of over 35,000 new voter registrations in the state, while Wisconsin Republicans announced plans to initiative what it called “background checks” on newly registered voters. In addition, reports have surfaced of Republican plans to mount aggressive challenges against the credentials of voters in “urban areas” where minority voters are predominant.
The British Broadcasting Company has also disclosed a memo to top Republican officials in Florida identifying voters in predominantly black precincts for possible challenge.
Such efforts, according to Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington Bureau for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), a member of the LCCR coalition, amount to intimidation. “They are designed to induce fear on the part of newly registered voters, particularly in minority communities,” she said, adding that the RNC should “work with us to empower minority communities, not deny them their fundamental rights.”
“Sometimes, there is a think line between enforcement of election law and voter intimidation,” said Cecilia Munoz, vice president of the National Council of La Raza, a grassroots Latino group. “Selective access to the polls, arbitrary voter purges, and speculative complaints …will diminish or weaken the very process we are trying to energize.”
Adding to these concerns are the facts that the secretaries of state, usually the chief election official at the state level, in four battleground states – Michigan, Missouri, Florida, and Ohio – have taken top campaign posts for Bush and have been accused of manipulating state election laws to restrict voter access on behalf of Republicans.