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National Voting Rights Leaders Converge On Denver for First-Of-Its-Kind Event To Combat Voter Suppression

DENVER (CBS4) - Mayors and lawmakers from around the country converged on Denver to take a stand against a wave of new laws that make it harder to vote. This year alone, 19 states passed restrictive voting laws.

National Nonpartisan Conversation on Voting Rights (3)
(credit: CBS)

Mayor Michael Hancock hosted the event that he called a National Nonpartisan Conversation on Voting Rights. He says many people -- especially in states like Colorado where it's easy to vote -- don't realize what's going on in states like Texas and Georgia where new laws make it harder to vote.

"We got to this moment where I could exercise the right to vote because people saw what happened in Selma, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and got off their couches in Michigan, Colorado, California and Texas and said 'We're going to go and demonstrate what this Constitution is really supposed to stand for," he said.

Hancock issued a call to action for civic leaders across the country like Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner. Texas passed a host of laws restricting voter access, including making it a crime for election officials to encourage people to request mail ballots and for anyone to return ballots for people who need assistance.

Turner says we should all be worried.

"Quite frankly, what happens in Texas can set the tone also for the rest of the country," he said.

As a mayor, he has gotten creative.

"We send out water bills every month, electric bills every month. We can utilize those vehicles to provide information, voter awareness and all of that.

"I have 22,000 city employees. We can educate them. I can give time off. They can become the ambassadors for our city.

"It's important to not just talk about 'Woe is me, this is what happened, these are the challenges.' The question now is, how do we move past it?"

ballot voting generic
(credit: CBS)

Amber McReynolds, founding CEO of National Vote At Home Institute, was among the speakers at the event. She says mayors don't need to pass new laws to make voting easier. As the Director of Elections in Denver in 2009, McReynolds created a ballot tracking system and used libraries and recreation centers as polling sites. But, she says changes at the federal level are needed, too.

"I think we should be putting more baselines in place at the federal level so there's more consistency so that will mitigate some of the risks in the system."

Rep. Nikema Williams of Georgia is among those in the trenches. She holds the seat of the late Congressman and Civil Rights Leader John Lewis. Her state legislature banned mass voting sites and mobile voting units, made drop boxes available 9 to 5 only, and made it illegal to give water to a voter waiting in line.

"It's not about one state, one city, one election. This is about the entire country and everyone having free and fair access to the ballot."

National Nonpartisan Conversation on Voting Rights (2)
(credit: CBS)

Hancock says his goal with the event is to develop national strategies that ensure every citizen has access to the ballot, especially in communities of color that are impacted most by the new laws.

"We're not going to continue to let some of these state legislatures around the country pass laws without hearing from a cross section of people from around this nation saying 'That's B.S., we're not going to stand for it. Too many people have died for you to come and play that game."

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