Voting Rights and Access
with Clint Odom of the National Urban League
In the past decade, 25 states have passed voting laws that advocates say are restrictive and disproportionately affect minority communities.
Clint Odom of the National Urban League discusses strategies to encourage Americans of all backgrounds to cast their vote.
Jul 31, 2019
Nathalia O:Since 2010, 25 states have instituted voting laws that disproportionately affect minority communities, including stringent voter ID requirements, reductions in early voting periods, and laws that make it more difficult for citizens to register. Hello, and welcome to Comcast Newsmakers. I'm Nathalia Ortiz. The National Urban League's 2019 State of Black America Report outlines voting rights as the most pressing challenge facing American democracy. Joining me to discuss the state of voting rights is Clint Odom, the Senior Vice President For policy at the National Urban League. Welcome, Clint.
Clint O: It's a pleasure to be here.
Nathalia O: Thank you. Talk to us about why do you think that this is occurring, the escalation of what you're calling an attack on voting or voter suppression?
Clint O: Sure. Well, voter suppression is one of the oldest techniques in American history. Ever since African Americans were given the right to vote, there's always been barriers put in front of them to that right to vote. Fast forward to 2016, we saw something that we'd never really seen in the history of voter suppression. We saw a nation-state, like the Russian Federation, intentionally interfering in our elections through manipulation of social media, sending trolls out, fake personalities to impersonate people to try to foment dissension, trying to get people fighting or trying to get people to stay at home and not vote. So in this year's State of Black America, we wanted to highlight not just the old voter suppression techniques, but some of the new ones that we were starting to see and some of the ones that we could expect to see going forward in our most imminent election in 2020.
Nathalia O: And so your report outlines suggestions or recommendations. Talk to us about some of those. I know among them, it's eliminating strict discriminatory voter ID requirements, allowing automatic voter registration and online registration. And also same day registration. But the list goes on.
Clint O: Sure. And not to belabor any individual proposal, I think it suffices to say that we should be trying to encourage Americans to vote, period. It shouldn't be the type of thing that barriers are erected to prevent. Voter ID, unfortunately, has been approved by the United States Supreme Court as a technique that states may institute, but they've gone beyond in many instances. So for instance, in Georgia we saw an instance where there was a law passed saying the name on your driver's license must be an exact match with the name that's on the voter rolls. So if you are a person who has a hyphenated name or a long name, which is often the case with people who are either immigrants or Hispanic or African American, that person's vote could be challenged, leading to their vote not counting.So we've got to make it easier for people to vote. Same day voter registration we've seen in certain states. Being able to register at the same time that you get your driver's license. These are the types of things that we should be encouraging to allow people to vote. Allowing people to vote on days other than election day. Early voting. So we know how to do this in this country. Unfortunately, for lots of reasons that I can't figure out, we've just made it harder in this country.
Nathalia O: Well, I think some people might say, and here's an opportunity for you to counter that. Some people might say that's in order to prevent voter fraud. Or duplicate votes, et cetera, that whole umbrella of problems that could happen. Yeah. And you know that is a reality. What do you say to that?
Clint O: Of course, of course. And this is a very familiar trope. We've heard this for many years. And it turns out, when you actually study the hundreds of millions of votes that have been cast in this country, an infinitesimally small number have been cast fraudulently. And in those few instances where it has happened, we found it's people who maybe voted by mistake or who didn't know that they were under a voter restriction.
Nathalia O: So there was no ill intention is what your saying?
Clint O: Nope, no ill intention. Now some of the fraud that we have seen has been quite intentional, but it was never the type of voting fraud that any of these laws were enacted to fix. We've actually seen fraud in North Carolina, for instance, where people were given absentee ballots that were thrown away. And these things are under active investigation. In North Carolina, I think they actually canceled the election and started over. So we do see voter fraud, but it's not in the nature of someone presenting a false ID or trying to vote who isn't a citizen or who isn't otherwise entitled to.
Nathalia O: Clint, quickly because we're about to wrap up, what do you have to say or what message do you have for those who are watching right now?
Clint O: Sure. Well, the types of voter suppression techniques that we've seen over the past few years can easily crop up in the area of the census. So we are embarking upon our decennial census in 2020, and we believe and expect fully that the same type of voter suppression techniques and misinformation techniques that we've seen through social media platforms, like Twitter and Facebook, could very well pop up here, discouraging people from filling out the census. And as you know, filling out the census and providing that information is so critical for our schools and our hospitals and our disaster relief, our apportionment in Congress. So we want people to fully participate in the census. And hopefully we won't see as as many dirty tricks in 2020 as we saw in 2016 and some that we saw in 2018.
Nathalia O: Last point. Where can people go for more information?
Clint O: They can always go to the National Urban Leagues website, which is nul.org. There you will find a host of organizations that we partner with to learn more about the census and to learn more about where to go to vote and hopefully get everybody filling out the census and voting.
Nathalia O: Thank you so much, Clint.
Clint O: Thank you.
Nathalia O: That was Clint Odom from the National Urban League. Thank you for being here and thank you all for joining us as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Nathalia Ortiz.
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