Sherrilyn Ifill, President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) was on the ground in Alabama on this Election Day engaging in nonpartisan election protection work as part of LDF’s annual Prepared to Vote Campaign. Prepared to Vote is designed to protect the right of African Americans and other voters to participate freely and equally in the political process on Election Day. Ifill offered this statement about what she witnessed and the need to restore the Voting Rights Act:
“This was the first presidential election in more than 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. It must also be the last.
“LDF had teams of lawyers and other volunteers at polling places in six states. In the course of the day, our staff observed long lines, a lack of resources for people with disabilities, broken machines, unresponsive public officials, voter confusion as a result of changed and closed polling places, and incidents of intimidation. I was on the ground in Alabama, the state where the Supreme Court’s disastrous Shelby County v. Holder decision originated. Today in Alabama, one of our attorneys was asked to leave a polling place where he was engaged in nonpartisan election observation. One young African American voter handing out sample ballots in the parking lot of a polling place was subjected to three separate incidents of white voters telling him to ‘leave’ and to ‘go back where you came from.’ One told him, ironically, ‘today is not the day for this.’ And in Huntsville, a polling place had only one functioning machine for voters to cast their ballot – and while some public officials were responsive, others were hostile and dismissive when alerted to this unacceptable situation.
“We will learn more in the coming days about the specifics of the challenges faced by voters around the country, but we already know the truth: The Voting Rights Act is vital and necessary to protect our elections. Ahead of this election, we saw an unprecedented number of threats and attempts to intimidate and misinform voters. Voter suppression laws targeting minority voters sailed through state legislatures. People once again had to wait in long lines. Voters were confused because of changes to their polling places and a lack of accurate information provided to them by their state officials. In jurisdictions formerly covered by the Voting Rights Act, voters saw 868 polling places closed, forcing too many people to travel as far as 25 miles just to be able to vote. In addition to deploying our legal staff, LDF has taken several steps to ensure the rights of voters are protected on Election Day, including sending a letter to Alabama Secretary of State expressing concerns of potential voter intimidation and calling on him to ensure voters are afforded free and equal access to the polls and sending a letter to the Democratic and Republican national committees urging them to pledge to enact measures to ensure every voter able to participate equally and freely. In addition, we litigated to ensure compliance with federal courts orders, put in place to protect minority voters, in places like Texas.
“We must resist the urge to applaud and say ‘it was not as bad as we thought it was going to be’ or ‘it could have been worse.’ The bottom line is that nobody who has the right to vote and wants to make their voice heard should be denied that opportunity. Even one case of disfranchisement is too many. The road to ensuring that everyone who has the right to vote has free and equal access to the ballot begins with the restoration of the Voting Rights Act. 2016 should go down in history as the only presidential election of the modern era without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act.”
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF