naacp_web.jpgurban_league_logo.jpgA coalition of nearly 20 organizations, including the NAACP and the National Urban League, announced they have launched a “Stand for Freedom” voting rights campaign and also a major mobilization on Dec. 10 — United Nations Human Rights Day — to protest what they say is an attack on voting rights throughout the country.

The campaign will take aim at election laws which, the coalition says, will suppress the rights of millions of Americans to vote in 2012 and beyond.

In dozens of states, new rules will create what the coalition describes as a modern-day poll tax by requiring voters to obtain and present official photo ID in order to cast ballots. In many of those same states, new laws significantly cut early voting and Sunday voting, as well.

African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans, seniors, students, working women and immigrants will be disproportionately affected by the new laws, the coalition says, noting that they are less likely to have identification that complies with the strict new rules.

While voters in some states may request free photo IDs from state motor vehicles departments, they must still pay to obtain underlying documents, such as birth certificates, necessary to get the photo ID, which could discourage them from voting, the coalition argues.

“We are in the midst of the greatest coordinated legislative attack on voting rights since the dawn of Jim Crow,” NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous said in the announcement.

“Voter ID laws are nothing but reincarnated poll taxes and literacy tests and ex-felon voting bans serve the same purpose today as when they were created in the wake of the 15th Amendment guaranteeing ex-slaves the vote: suppressing voting numbers among people of color,” Jealous said.

The announcement came at New York City’s City Hall earlier this month. Other top leaders present for the occasion included Marc Morial, president of the  National Urban League; the Rev. Al Sharpton, president of the National Action Council; Lillian Rodríguez López, president of the Hispanic Federation; Margaret Fung,  executive director, Asian-American Legal Defense & Education Fund; Michael Mulgrew, president, United Federation of Teachers; George Gresham, president of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU); and Donna Lieberman, president, New York Civil Liberties Union.

“National Action Network and I see the assault on voters with voter ID laws, the end of early voting and other measures as a blatant attempt to undermine the Voter Rights Act,” Sharpton said. “The nation cannot honor Dr. [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] and undo his work at the same time. We will fight it in the courts and in the streets.”

Other leaders at the campaign launch also spoke out sharply against what they see as a usurpation of the right to vote.

“We are standing up for the fundamental pillar of our democracy,” said Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project. “Election Day is the one time we are all equal in America. Rich or poor, black, Latino, Asian, Native American or white, young or old, we can all cast an equal vote to determine the shape of our government. Next year, millions of people could be barred from the voting booth. We cannot allow our rights to be stolen.”

Rodríguez López of the Hispanic Federation noted that since the founding of the nation, voting has been fundamental to the pursuit of freedom and equal opportunity. “Any attempt to undermine the right to vote, especially when that effort is directed at historically marginalized groups, must be treated as an attack on the very ideals that created our country: democracy and equality,” she said.

“The so-called problem of voter fraud is a myth, the percentage is miniscule,” said George Gresham, President of 1199 SEIU. “These new laws are suddenly being pushed after the historic 2008 presidential election when Americans headed to the polls in droves. Now as we prepare for the 2012 elections, it’s difficult to believe that this isn’t some kind of ploy to keep poor people, working people, or people of color away from the polls.”

Supporters of the new laws, which have been passed or taken shape in 13 states over two months, claim they prevent voter fraud but Rafael Collazo, campaign political director for the National Council of La Raza countered such claims, saying, “It’s just plain dishonest to claim that you are cutting back the days people can early vote or eliminating them entirely to cut down on fraud. There’s just no link between the two and we cannot allow the proponents of these laws to continue using false arguments with the American people.”