Last week a temporary solution in court granted about 17,500 people the right to vote this Election Day thanks to the efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and the ACLU had been in a court battle over the state’s law requiring people to prove they are American citizens if they want to register to vote while applying for a driver’s license. Kansas has one of the strictest voter identification laws in the country. However, this deal will allow people who did not provide proof of citizenship to vote on November 8 with a standard ballot instead of a provisional one.
“Our case is ongoing, but this interim agreement is a critical victory for Kansans who want to vote in the November election. It is a shame that voters had to fight so hard to get Kris Kobach to do his job,” said ACLU attorney Orion Danjuma.
The ACLU has fought in defense of a range of personal liberties including the right to vote for all for nearly a century. Founded in 1920, the nonprofit and nonpartisan organization currently has a 94.39 score on Charity Navigator.
In addition to Kansas, the ACLU has also recently made waves regarding strict voter ID laws in Wisconsin. The ACLU and VoteRiders, a group that helps people obtain identification required to vote, have separately challenged not only the state’s disenfranchising law but its inconsistent implementation of it. The ACLU filed an appeal on Friday and has asked the court to either allow voters who were rejected for not having the proper identification to vote using an affidavit, which has been allowed in other states, or to invalidate the law altogether.
“A bureaucracy designed to regulate driving is simply unequipped to be the gatekeeper of our democracy,” the appeal reads. “Throughout the life of this five-year litigation, the DMV has consistently failed to implement effectively its ever-changing series of rules and policies, which continue to disenfranchise voters who cannot obtain ID despite reasonable effort.”
The ACLU also played an active role this summer in fighting disenfranchising voting laws in North Carolina. In August the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a proposed motion to stay the court’s earlier decision to eliminate a voter ID law that disproportionately prevented minorities from voting.
Judge Diana Gribbon Motz called the state’s Republican voter ID law “the most restrictive voting legislation seen in North Carolina since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965” and added that the law targeted “African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” The state sought to take away its Black citizens’ right to vote “because [they] were about to exercise it,” the judge determined.
In addition to strict identification laws, the ACLU is also bringing to light other issues that hinder minority groups from voting, including early voter suppression. According to the ACLU, early voter suppression makes it more difficult for working people, senior citizens, people with disabilities and minorities to vote. The organization reported that in 2008 and 2012, 70 percent of Black voters in North Carolina voted early. Similarly, in 2012 Blacks voted early at a rate more than two times that of white voters.
History of the ACLU and Today
“So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy,” said one of ACLU’s founders, Roger Baldwin.
According to its website, “The ACLU was founded to ensure the promise of the Bill of Rights and to expand its reach to people historically denied its protections. And at times in our history when frightened civilians have been willing to give up some of their freedoms and rights in the name of national security, the ACLU has been the bulwark for liberty.”
In its early stages the ACLU stood alone in its fight for justice, its website states. But almost a century later the ACLU has grown exponentially and has voices all over the country.
Also on its website, the ACLU features an open letter from comedian and voice actor Lewis Black, who has served as an ambassador for the ACLU since 2013, “to all politicians who’ve ever tried to block access to voting.”
“The cornerstone of this great country is the right to vote and you should be fighting to make sure that every citizen who can vote, does! But instead you’re creating obstacles for voters Well, that makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it,” Black writes.
The letter continues:
“People marched and fought and died for the right to vote. And you want to legislate away that sacrifice Not on my watch!
“Your power comes from our votes it’s time you started fighting voter discrimination instead of passing laws that disenfranchise more and more people in this country.”