The NAACP has been collecting information about early voting advocacy by black churches in Florida, hoping to convince the Justice Department to strike down a slew of new state voting laws it claims are intended to thwart growing minority participation at the polls ahead of next year's presidential election.
In a report released Monday, the NAACP argues that the new laws amount to a coordinated and comprehensive assault on minorities' voting rights at a time when their numbers in the population and at the ballot box have increased.
NAACP President Ben Jealous said he personally delivered a copy of the report over the weekend to Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, who oversees the agency's civil rights division. Jealous said the NAACP wants to diligently document how the laws affect African Americans and Latinos, and provide the attorney general ample evidence for finding the laws unconstitutional.
Several states have passed laws requiring voters to present specific types of photo identification and proof of citizenship to vote; creating new rules for voter registration drives; reducing early voting days and voter registration periods; and further preventing ex-felons from voting. The NAACP refers to these in its report as "block the vote" tactics.
"In some ways, these tactics are not Jim Crow. They do not feature Night Riders and sheets ... This is in fact, James Crow, Esq.," said the Rev. William Barber, NAACP North Carolina president and a pastor. " ... Jim Crow used blunt tools. James Crow, Esq. uses surgical tools, consultants, high paid consultants and lawyers to cut out the heart of black political power."
For example, a law passed in Florida reduced its early voting period from 14 to 8 days, including the last Sunday before Election Day.
In 2008, 54 percent of black voters in Florida cast their ballots early, and blacks comprised 32 percent of the entire statewide turnout on the last Sunday before the election, said Ryan Haygood, director of political participation for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
"It's widely known in Florida that black churches would organize what they called 'Get Your Souls to the Polls' where they urged their members, after fulfilling their spiritual duties on Sundays to discharge their civic ones by voting," Haygood said.