41 Civil and Human Rights Groups Call for Voting Rights Questions at Presidential Debates

Categories: Press Releases

For Immediate Release
Contact: Shin Inouye, 202.869.0398, inouye@civilrights.org

WASHINGTON–In advance of tomorrow’s Republican Presidential debate, “Your Money, Your Vote,” 41 civil and human rights groups sent a letter to CNBC chairman Mark Hoffman and debate moderators Carl Quintanilla, Becky Quick and John Harwood, urging them to engage the candidates on the critical issue of voting rights. The groups also sent the letter to MSNBC, urging it to bring up the issue at the Democratic presidential candidate forum on November 6.

Voting rights is already a major issue in the lead up to the 2016 election, and could prove instrumental in its outcome. And yet, not one question about voting rights has been asked in the previous three national presidential debates. The groups are urging the debate moderators to ask the candidates to explain their positions on the bipartisan legislation pending in Congress to restore and strengthen the voting rights act, and to tell voters what they would do as president to address voting discrimination.

Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013, the U.S. has seen a wave of new state voting laws making it more difficult to cast a vote and to have that vote counted. The burden of many of these restrictions—like those enacted in Texas and North Carolina—falls heaviest on voters of color, language minorities, and voters with disabilities.

“Few of the presidential candidates have made their positions known on the legislation or said what they would do to protect citizens from voting discrimination,” the groups wrote. “But the issue won’t go away, as demonstrated by the recent closure by Alabama of driver’s license offices in 31 counties – including those with the largest percentage of black voters – making it harder for voters to obtain the most common form of photo ID that Alabama requires be shown at the polls to cast a vote.”

“Voting is the language of our democracy,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Every candidate seeking our nation’s highest office must explain their position on the crucial voting rights legislation in Congress, and say what they would do to make sure that no citizen is denied the right to vote.”

The letter and its full list of signers are below:

Dear Mr. Hoffman and Mr. Griffin,

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the 40 undersigned organizations, we urge you to engage the candidates on the critical issue of voting rights in the October 28 “Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate” on CNBC and the November 6 “First in the South Candidates Forum” on MSNBC.

Specifically, we would like your moderators to ask the candidates:

1.         To explain their positions on bipartisan legislation pending in both the U.S. House and Senate to restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act, and

2.         To tell the voters what they would do as president to address voting discrimination.

Through the previous three nationally televised presidential debates, not one question has been asked about voting rights. And yet, voting rights is already a major issue in the lead up to the 2016 election and could prove instrumental in its outcome.

Since 2010, our nation has seen a wave of new state voting laws, many of them making it more difficult to cast a vote and to have that vote counted. While some states, like California and Oregon, have moved dramatically to expand access to voting, others, like North Carolina and Texas, have increased registration requirements and reduced opportunities to register and to vote. The burden of many of these restrictions falls heaviest on voters of color, language minorities, and voters with disabilities, sparking intense controversy and spawning expensive, time-consuming legal battles – some of which are destined to reach the Supreme Court.

The stakes for voters – and our nation – are extremely high: These laws and lawsuits could have an enormous impact on the election of the next president, the Congress, governors, state legislators, and local races from mayor to school board, making it essential that the candidates for president address the issue of voting rights.

The controversy over voting rights comes as the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Voting Rights Act, our nation’s most effective civil rights law. Earlier this year, President Obama, former President George W. Bush, and more than 100 members of Congress – Republicans and Democrats – joined together in Selma, Alabama, to honor the brave men and women who were beaten as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, in what became known as Bloody Sunday. The violent response to that march galvanized the nation and a bipartisan majority in Congress to pass the VRA five months later.

But for many Americans, the 50th anniversary of the VRA – which made our democracy more fair, inclusive and accessible – has felt more like a wake than a celebration. Many of the controversial new laws were passed or implemented in the wake of the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Shelby County v. Holder (2013) ruling that greatly diminished the VRA’s ability to protect voters in places with a recent record of voting discrimination. Because of the Shelby ruling, this will be the first presidential election in 50 years conducted without the full strength of the VRA.

Republicans and Democrats have traditionally come together to support and strengthen the VRA. While President Johnson, a Democrat, called for and signed the VRA in 1965, Republicans Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush signed the four VRA reauthorizations during their presidencies. And since the Supreme Court’s ruling, bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both the House (the Voting Rights Amendment Act) and Senate (the Voting Rights Advancement Act) to restore the VRA’s protections.

Few of the presidential candidates have made their positions known on the legislation or said what they would do to protect citizens from voting discrimination. But the issue won’t go away, as demonstrated by the recent closure by Alabama of driver’s license offices in 31 counties – including those with the largest percentage of black voters – making it harder for voters to obtain the most common form of photo ID that Alabama requires be shown at the polls to cast a vote.

Given this and other controversies, every candidate should be asked to justify their position on the VRA legislation in Congress and say what they would do to make sure that no citizen is denied the right to vote.

As moderators and broadcasters of the next two debates, CNBC and MSNBC have the opportunity and the obligation to get all the presidential candidates on the record regarding their stands on voting rights.

CNBC’s “Your Money, Your Vote: The Republican Presidential Debate,” will likely devote a significant amount of time to economic issues. When it comes to economic issues facing our nation, voting rights are fundamental. Voting is how citizens express their will and hold their governments accountable. Their votes impact every facet of our nation’s economic policy, including how our taxes are raised or spent, the delivery of health care, the availability of housing, the decisions that shape our transportation systems, the resources available to our schools, our trade and energy policies, and how we address issues such as poverty and the impact of the justice system on families and communities. Voting rights are inseparable from our nation’s economic future and, therefore, perfect for this format.

MSNBC’s “First in the South Candidate’s Forum” is also an appropriate venue for the candidates to discuss voting rights. The forum will be held in South Carolina and co-hosted by 13 Southern Democratic State Parties, many from states with new voting restrictions that had been covered in full or in part by the Voting Rights Act before the Shelby decision. A failure to raise the issue of voting rights with the candidates in a southern-focused forum would be unthinkable.

Voting is the language of democracy. And anyone seeking our nation’s most powerful office should be clear with the nation’s citizens on where they stand in protecting the voice of the voters. We look forward to a positive response to our request.

Sincerely,

African American Ministers in Action

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

American Association of University Women (AAUW)

American Civil Liberties Union

Arizona Advocacy Network

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote

Bend the Arc Jewish Action

Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law

The Center for Civic and Public Policy Improvement

Center for Popular Democracy and CPD Action

Common Cause

Communications Workers of America

Demos Action

Fair Elections Legal Network (FELN)

Georgia Coalition for Peoples’ Agenda

Japanese American Citizens League

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The League of Women Voters

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

NAACP

NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

NALEO Educational Fund

National Council of Jewish Women

National Disability Rights Network

National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund

Nebraskans for Civic Reform

NOVA (Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates)

OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates

Ohio Voice

Project Vote

The Reeb Voting Project of All Souls Church, Unitarian

Rock the Vote

Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Southern Poverty Law Center

Stand Up! for Democracy in DC (Free DC)

United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries

Voter Participation Center

Voting Rights Forward

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 200 national organizations to promote and protect the rights of all persons in the United States. The Leadership Conference works toward an America as good as its ideals. For more information on The Leadership Conference and its 200-plus member organizations, visit www.civilrights.org.

 

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