“Send Clear Message on Protecting Voting Rights” Civil Rights Coalition Tells Ashcroft

Media 10.22.04

Washington – In a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, today called on the nation’s chief law enforcement officer to refrain from issuing directives and communications that could deter voters from exercising their right to vote.

Stating that “Department of Justice policy clearly reflects that voter fraud investigations – or the threat of such investigations coming close to an election – can lead to voter suppression,” LCCR urged the Attorney General “to make clear to U.S. Attorney’s offices that any press release informing the public about the Department’s efforts to preserve voting integrity should simply provide contact information for those who witness fraud, rather than outline penalties and types of activities that are vulnerable to fraud (i.e., providing assistance to voters at the polls), which could scare some voters off or cause them not to seek legitimate help if they need it.”

“Based on recent news and other reports, we are concerned that the Justice Department is more focused on potential voter fraud than voter intimidation or vote suppression,” said Wade Henderson, LCCR Executive Director. “We are particularly uneasy about reports of the issuance of a memorandum sent to all 93 U.S. Attorneys requiring that they send out a press release ‘immediately prior to the November elections’ that will ‘advise citizens of the Department’s interest in deterring voting rights abuses and fraud during these elections.'”

In its letter, LCCR also reiterated its concerns regarding the need to protect the voting rights of African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and other minorities. LCCR urged Ashcroft to “reach out to election officials across the country to ensure that they are doing all they can to combat efforts to intimidate minority voters, including discouraging the use of selective voter challenges at the polls aimed at African American, Latino, Native American, or Asian voters.”

“More than anything,” said Henderson, “America needs a clean and fair election. Under the Voting Rights Act, it is the responsibility of the Justice Department and the Attorney General to make sure that citizens are not deprived of their voting rights. The Attorney General also is duty bound to make sure that local election officials do not use their power to discourage, confuse, or intimidate citizens who seek to cast their votes on November 2nd.”