Transcript: Judith Browne-Dianis’ remarks on voting rights at the 2012 CBC Summit

Edited by Jenny Jiang

Transcript of remarks by Judith Browne-Dianis, Co-Director of the Advancement Project, on voting rights at the Congressional Black Caucus Summit on May 30, 2012:

“My name is Judith Browne-Dianis, and I am Co-Director of an organization called Advancement Project. We are a next-generation civil rights organization that believes that change is going to happen from the grassroots up. And what we do is support grassroots movements to work for racial justice.

“As you can see from all that you’ve heard so far, you know, in 2008 turnout among African-Americans, Latinos, and young voters was up. In 2010, we sat home and others were planning.

“In 2010, there was a sweep of state legislatures by the Republican party. And I will say that I am from a non-partisan organization so I’m just telling you the facts.

“So in 2010, when they took over the state legislatures they moved very quickly in 2011 to redistrict themselves into power for 20 to 30 years.

“In 2011, they quickly also moved to put in place new rules around voting because they saw changing demographics in this country and they saw that we could actually turn out in good numbers when we wanted to.

“And so they put in place new laws and they didn’t stop. In 2012, they tried again. And in some states, like North Carolina, where they passed the legislation for photo ID, they were going to do it by any means necessary. So they tried to override the Governor’s veto – how many times? – three or four times, with the last time being in a midnight session under cover of darkness.

“And so, it is important for us to understand that what is happening across the country is very important to some people – some people that don’t want to give up power.

“And it is important that we let our folks understand the lengths to which they will go in order to get that power.

“And so we have seen across the country these laws and it’s not just the voter ID laws, but let me tell you about voter ID.

“Advancement Project has some cases pending, and we have co-counsel with ACLU in a few of these cases.

“We have a case in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin, 78% of African-American males between the ages of 18 to 24 do not have state-issued photo ID. I said 78%.

“We have a case pending in Texas. We are part of the case that’s being brought by the DOJ. Do you know in Texas 600,000 already-registered do not have state-issued photo ID? That means they’ve been voting but somebody has changed the rules on them. Changing the rules of the game right before we getting ready to get to the finish line is not fair.

“And so we also brought a case in Missouri. In Missouri they decided that they were going to put it on the ballot in 2012. And we were able to stop them because their language was a little faulty and a little untruthful. They called it the ‘Voter Protection Act.’ I took offense to that because our program at the Advancement Project is called the ‘Voter Protection Program.’ And they said that getting ID is voter protection. No, no, no. We won that case and so it will not be on the ballot in November unless the legislature moves to get new language on the ballot, which they’re trying to do.

“We have a case in Pennsylvania with the ACLU. One of our plaintiffs is Ms. [Viviette] Applewhite. Ms. Applewhite is a 93-year-old African-American woman who’s been voting and she says ‘since we could.’ So that means Ms. Applewhite in the first election she voted she voted for President [John F.] Kennedy. That wasn’t that long ago. And Ms. Applewhite for the first time since then will not be able to vote because she does not have ID, because she does not have her birth certificate. She was born in a time when many people were not born in hospitals.

“And so we know many of our folks, especially our elderly folks, will be facing these kinds of hurdles because there are those who want to make it harder to vote. And they tell it is because they want to prevent fraud but they’re not preventing fraud, they’re preventing voting.

“Okay? You do not need a state-issued photo ID with your current address on it that’s unexpired to get on a plane. And by the way, getting on a plane is not a right. You don’t need it to buy Sudafeds.

“Don’t listen to the rhetoric. There is rhetorics surrounding these laws because they want people to buy into this idea.

“But what we need to know is that buying into the idea means that we are undermining democracy, because what is great about our country is the ability to participate in our elections. It is the one day where we have equalized everything. Equity across-the-board. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, rich or poor, we all get to have the same say when we go into the polling place and get to cast that ballot.

“And so there are those who say that they, in fact, don’t want to be equal so they’re going to pass these laws and make it harder.

“Now, let me just say on the voter fraud, I have an article down here that we put in the Washington Post called, ‘Five myths around voter fraud.’ You need to read it. You need to share it with your congregations because it’s important that people know that it’s rhetoric and that it’s myths around voter fraud, because as we know you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than to find a case of voter fraud, as the Brennan Center tells us.

“So let me move on to Florida very quickly. Florida – I love Florida. I’ve been doing litigation and voting rights litigation since 2000 down there with Barbara when we brought the case on behalf of African-American voters in the state of Florida.

“And in 2000, Katherine Harris said she was going to cast ‘a wide net’. That’s her language – ‘a wide net’ in order to do purges. And so they didn’t do the purges too well ’cause we know a lot of people showed up to the polls and their names weren’t on the rolls.

“Well, in 2004, they tried to do it again. They came up with what was a ‘bad felon’ list and they did this matching. And so if your name has ‘e’ on the end of it but the name of the person who’s convicted didn’t have an ‘e’ on it, too bad – you were caught up in the system. In 2004, we were able to stop the state – the Brennan Center and the Advancement Project worked together and we advocated with the Secretary of State to say, ‘Drop that list. Don’t use it.’ And they didn’t.

“Oh, but here we go again. Deja vu in Florida. Florida is always notorious – Congresswoman – I know you know.

[Laughter]

“And so here we go again – 180,000 on a list that says they are non-citizens – alleged non-citizens. In fact, over 400 people have already come forward and said, ‘Here is my proof of citizenship.’

“But understand – first of all, 50% of that list were Latino voters. So they’ve gone after black voters and now they’re going after Latino voters, right? And understand that what they are doing is sending you a letter and telling you to, ‘You come prove to us that you are a citizen. You’ve been voting for 30 years? We don’t care. Come prove it to us.’ Because they know that there are lot of people who get frustrated by this and say, ‘I’m not going to vote. If you’re going to put barriers in the way, I’m not going to vote.’ They’re counting on that.

“And so what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to tell people it doesn’t matter how high the barrier, this is too important. This is a right that we will not turn our back on.

“And so in Florida we know that we have got to continue this fight.

“But I want to tell you about another thing that’s going on.

“There’s a group called ‘True the Vote’ that you need to know about. Go to TrueToVote.org. TrueToVote.org said they are going to train one million people to be poll watchers this year. They’ve been having conferences across the country. They were started by the Houston – the Tea Party. Okay? In Houston. Called the King Street Patriots. And they sent poll watchers out in 2010, did a little pilot project, and sent the Tea Party people down to the black precincts in Houston to look over the shoulders of people as they vote. That was [a] pilot. Now they’re taking it nationwide. And so they will be coming to a polling place near you and you need to be prepared for this, because the idea is that they are going to challenge the eligibility of voters. This is about intimidation. This is about trying to make sure – not only are we going to change the rules and make it harder but when we get there we’re going to scare you. And so we’ve got to be ready for folks to tell that we will not be scared.

“Oh yes. So the Fort Lauderdale paper today has the story about the 91-year-old veteran who is on that purge list in Florida. A veteran! Okay? Has served his country and is on this list – illegally on this list. But don’t worry, we’re going to care of Florida. Don’t you worry.

[Applause]

“So True The Vote, what you need to know is that they are going to be prepared. And we need to be prepared. We have election protection folks monitoring the polling places. But for those who can for your congregations get people to sign up as judges, election judges, and poll workers because we need to be on the inside. We need to have an eye out for what is happening on the inside.

“So the other thing that I just want to tell you about is that we will be doing – the Advancement Project and the Brennan Center are going to be doing some communications work…What we are undertaking is that we’re going to be doing some polling and understanding how voters think about voting. But then what we also want to do is make sure that people are equipped with messages – what you need to say. So on fraud, they’re not preventing fraud, they’re preventing votes. That’s the message of the day for you all, okay? You all take that one with you. That was a freebie…

“Get regular communications about the things that you need to be telling folks about voting. So there’s going to come a period where you need to tell people, for example, to check your registration status. You know, we saw some numbers that about 40% of black folks in this country have moved between 2008 and 2012. Forty percent. So many of them are going to need to re-register. So we’re going to give you over the time from now and the election the information that you need to get voters ready for election day.

“We’re also going to give you those little messages that you need to debunk the myths, to make sure folks get invigorated so that they understand.

“Let me just say this in closing – I’m closing – See, I took less time than her so she can’t even say anything.

[Laughter]

“So it doesn’t end in November. If you thought that we had a bad time in 2011 and 2012 with these laws, you ain’t seeing nothing yet. Because in 2016, think about it. There will be no incumbent and so it’s wide open territory and so that means that there will be those who really got to get the game straight. You know, you don’t steal elections by going in as Mickey Mouse and impersonating Judith Browne-Dianis and voting. That’s not how voter fraud happens. The real voter fraud is changing the rules of the game so that we can’t vote. The real voter fraud is the misinformation that they put in our communities before an election so that we won’t vote. And so we have got to be prepared…Because don’t leave it alone in November because in January legislatures come back. And we will see them come back and they’re going to be rabid. They’re going to be drooling like a rabid dog, coming after us. And so we have to be prepared. And then what I want us to also be prepared for is that our members of Congress – the thing that we’re going to come back for is our proactive legislation. We have got to have some change.

[Applause]

“And we’re not only coming back for proactive legislation, but I’m going to tell you the little visionary thing that we really need. And Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., you know, has been pushing for this for years but I will tell you that we need to have an explicit right to vote in the Constitution. Without it, we see these attacks. Without it, we see no standards in how we vote. Do you know that there are 13,000 election jurisdictions that run elections 13,000 different ways? Because we have no standards.

“So at the end of the day, we are going to have to fight for this right to vote, take it up a notch, and be explicit about making sure the right to vote is enshrined in our Constitution.

“Thank you.”

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