Voting Rights and Election 2004

Categories: Advocacy Letter

Recipient: The Honorable John Ashcroft

The Honorable John Ashcroft
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20530

Re: Voting Rights and Election 2004

Dear Attorney General Ashcroft:

On behalf of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, I write today to express our concern about potential intimidation of minority voters during the upcoming November 2nd general election, and to urge you to make a public statement assuring voters across the country that while the Department has a responsibility both to protect ballot access and combat voter fraud, its work to protect minority voters from intimidation will be the focus of its efforts on election day. We also call on you 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.

For many years, LCCR has been actively involved in efforts to ensure the protection of minority voting rights. Many of our member organizations engage in voter empowerment and election protection activities that seek to promote civic participation, as well as litigation and other efforts to prevent the disfranchisement of minority voters. In recent years, and particularly in the wake of the 2000 general election, many voters in the communities that we represent have become increasingly sensitive to these issues.

Recently, we met with the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Alexander Acosta, and the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Christopher Wray, to discuss our concerns about ballot access and voter intimidation. We were pleased that both Mr. Acosta and Mr. Wray expressed a desire to ensure that the Department’s efforts at combating fraud do not themselves serve to chill ballot access for minority voters. However, in recent days, it has come to our attention that AAG Acosta and Wray sent a memo to all 93 United States 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.” We are troubled by this directive.

As you know, and as Department of Justice policy clearly reflects, voter fraud investigations – or the threat of such investigations coming close to an election – can lead to voter suppression. Therefore, we urge you 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.

We are also extremely concerned about the Civil Rights Division’s recent decision to file an amicus curiae brief opposing the position of the Michigan NAACP and others plaintiffs in Bay County Democratic Party v. Land, No. 04-10257-BC (E.D. Mich.). Rather than simply opposing the position of the NAACP and other civil rights groups – that under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), a state may not throw out provisional ballots accidentally cast in the incorrect precinct – the Division went even further. Instead, the Division went so far as to claim that no private litigation may be brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to enforce HAVA, and that HAVA does not confer individual rights at all. This flatly disregards the overwhelming concern about the deprivation of individual rights in 2000 that gave rise to HAVA, including the provisional ballot requirement it contains. There is no good reason for the Department’s Civil Rights Division to take such an anti-civil rights position, and it should be promptly reconsidered.

Attached is a copy of a letter that we sent to AAG Acosta on October 19, alerting him to these and other urgent concerns regarding minority voting rights, as jurisdictions prepare for the November 2 general election, and highlighting a number of jurisdictions around the country where we believe the presence of federal election observers, pursuant to the Voting Right Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973, et seq., or Civil Rights Division attorney monitors, would help mitigate potential voter intimidation and vote suppression.

Thank you for your time and attention to these important matters. If you have any questions, please contact Julie Fernandes, LCCR Senior Policy Analyst, at 202/263-2856.

Thank you.


Sincerely,

Wade Henderson
Executive Director

Nancy Zirkin
Deputy Director


Cc: Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General, Civil Rights Division; Christopher Wray, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division