WASHINGTON - The NAACP has been collecting information about early voting advocacy by black churches in Florida, hoping to convince the Justice Department to strike down a slew of new state voting laws it claims are intended to thwart growing minority participation at the polls ahead of next year's presidential election.
In a report released Monday, the NAACP argues that the new laws amount to a coordinated and comprehensive assault on minorities' voting rights at a time when their numbers in the population and at the ballot box have increased.
NAACP President Ben Jealous said he personally delivered a copy of the report over the weekend to Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, who oversees the agency's civil rights division. Jealous said the NAACP wants to diligently document how the laws affect African Americans and Latinos, and provide the attorney general ample evidence for finding the laws unconstitutional.
Several states have passed laws requiring voters to present specific types of photo identification and proof of citizenship to vote; creating new rules for voter registration drives; reducing early voting days and voter registration periods; and further preventing ex-felons from voting. The NAACP refers to these in its report as "block the vote" tactics.
"In some ways, these tactics are not Jim Crow. They do not feature Night Riders and sheets ... This is in fact, James Crow, Esq.," said the Rev. William Barber, NAACP North Carolina president and a pastor. " ... Jim Crow used blunt tools. James Crow, Esq. uses surgical tools, consultants, high paid consultants and lawyers to cut out the heart of black political power."
For example, a law passed in Florida reduced its early voting period from 14 to 8 days, including the last Sunday before Election Day.
In 2008, 54 percent of black voters in Florida cast their ballots early, and blacks comprised 32 percent of the entire statewide turnout on the last Sunday before the election, said Ryan Haygood, director of political participation for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
"It's widely known in Florida that black churches would organize what they called `Get Your Souls to the Polls' where they urged their members, after fulfilling their spiritual duties on Sundays to discharge their civic ones by voting," Haygood said.
Florida's black and Latino populations grew during the past decade, inching it closer to being a majority-minority state.
Jealous said the NAACP also will send its report to other federal agencies, secretaries of state and attorneys general in the 50 states, congressional committees and the United Nations. The NAACP holds special status with the U.N. that allows it to make presentations to a committee overseeing race and discrimination.
Asked about the report, the Justice Department cited a copy of a speech Perez gave last Thursday. In the written speech Perez said several of the states' laws are being reviewed for compliance with protections for minority voting rights under the Voting Rights Act. Perez said those states bear the burden of showing the new laws are not intentionally discriminatory and will not have a retrogressive effect.
Supporters of the new laws, including at least one group funded by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, have said the new laws are designed to prevent voter fraud. Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said voter ID laws have wide support, including in the black community.
"It's hard for me to believe a serious group like the NAACP would come out to say there's some grand conspiracy to deny people the right to vote," von Spakovsky said.
The NAACP has planned a protest march and rally that will start at the Koch brothers' offices in New York on Saturday.
Besides Florida, other states that have new voting laws include Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.