As legal battles wage on fighting issues including strict voter ID laws, one group has chosen to focus on community-centered solutions in the battle for equal voting rights.
The Advancement Project is a national nonprofit organization that uses an “on-the-ground” approach to “reform and dismantle” discriminatory policies targeting minorities, including minority disenfranchisement. The group, which has a 92.02 ranking on Charity Navigator, was founded in 1999 “to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.”
Advancement Project works at the grassroots level to educate the public on its rights and the issues that continue to plague the voting process. It has work sites that focus on voter protection in 10 states, where the organization partners with community-based groups as well as national partners to defend the right to vote. In June the group published a fact sheet, “Barriers to the Ballot: Restrictive Voting Procedures in 2016,” a tool with information on states with restrictive policies including DMV closures, voter ID laws, felony disenfranchisement and cuts to early voting.
In addition to raising awareness and educating communities, the organization also pushes for action when necessary. Advancement Project works to expose potential problems at local and state levels that could make it more difficult for disenfranchised groups to vote.
“We need a constitutional right to vote so that states’ rights don’t trump voting rights,” Advancement Project Executive Director Judith Browne Dianis said.
Advancement Project in the News
The organization released a statement earlier this month regarding Missouri, where Advancement Project has a voter protection site, after the state legislature overrode Republican Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto on a bill he called “an affront to Missourians’ fundamental right to vote.”
Denise Lieberman, an Advancement Project senior attorney who works with the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition, said the legislature’s decision will disproportionately impact seniors, students, women, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities. “Relegating hundreds of thousands of eligible Missouri voters to second-class citizens while weakening our fundamental right to vote is reprehensible,” she said. “We will continue taking our message to voters: We should not weaken our right to vote as we continue our fight to ensure that elections are free, fair and accessible to all.”
Dianis said of the veto, “Legislators who tamper with Missouri’s right to vote are trying to unfairly determine who has a voice in our democracy. Unfortunately for them, voting rights groups are winning and changing the narrative. Even the courts are recognizing voter ID efforts as racially-motivated suppression tactics. Making it harder for some communities to cast a ballot is firmly rooted in our nation’s Jim Crow past. Slowly but surely, Americans are rejecting race-based attacks on the right to vote.”
Dianis has worked with Advancement Project since its founding nearly two decades ago. She previously worked with the NAACP Legal & Defense Fund, serving as the managing attorney in its Washington, D.C., office.
Dianis published a piece in The Washington Post earlier this month regarding Virginia’s current legal battle for the restoration of felons’ voting rights. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently restored the right to vote to nearly 13,000 felons. However, he is being challenged by Virginia Republicans, leaving the status of many potential voters in limbo. Advancement Project has advocated for Virginia to restore this right, dedicating an area of its website to “Rights Restoration.”
“The pattern here is clear: Opponents of voting rights are using the legal system to preserve a policy that makes it harder for some Americans to vote,” Dianis wrote in her opinion piece titled “A backward march on voting rights.” “This has been a well-known tactic throughout history for those who could not stop efforts to expand ballot access through the electoral or legislative process. In this case, opponents of voting rights understand that they are working against the will of Virginians. They don’t care.”
Advancement Project also praised the recent court decision preventing Alabama, Georgia and Kansas from requiring documentary proof of citizenship when registering to vote. Dianis called the ruling “another victory for communities of color and for anyone who believes in making access to the ballot easier, not harder.”