The NAACP is joining with minority and labor groups for a series of protests around the country meant to move discussion of voter identification laws out of policy circles and onto street corners, the organization's president said Tuesday.
Benjamin Todd Jealous appeared on the steps of New York City Hall with the Rev. Al Sharpton, U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel and community and labor leaders to announce plans for nationwide protests on Dec. 10 and across the South in the following weeks, decrying what they described as a nationwide voter suppression effort.
The rallies are "intended to get this conversation out of the thought leader class and down to the street corners, so folks understand that their rights are being attacked," Jealous said, adding that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People had already raised millions of dollars to support its campaign.
He said his group has been urging the Department of Justice, which is considering the legality of proposed policies in Texas and South Carolina, to block the laws.
"This is the greatest assault on voting rights, happening right now, that we have seen since the dawn of Jim Crow," he said.
Kansas, Tennessee and Wisconsin are among the states that passed voter identification measures this year. Civil-rights advocates have argued the laws target low-income and minority voters by requiring specific types of photo ID to cast ballots, by reducing the number of early voting days and by instituting tougher laws on collecting registrations.
They say that blacks, Hispanics, senior citizens, people with disabilities and the poor are less likely to have the required photo IDs. And they argue others could be disenfranchised, such as voters who don't carry ID with them, students whose school IDs are deemed unacceptable and women whose drivers' licenses do not reflect their married names or new addresses.
Supporters of the laws say that they are necessary to eliminate voter fraud, no matter how rare it is. And some argue that without ID checks at the polls, there's no way to track how many people may be casting illegal votes.
"I'm not sure how much fraud they think is acceptable," said Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank. "The U.S. has a long history of voter fraud, and it could make the difference in a close election."
The NAACP announcement came on a day that voters in Mississippi approved a proposed constitutional amendment to require that voters present government-issued identification at the polls. Voters in Maine repealed a law requiring them to enroll at least two days before an election, restoring a four-decade policy of allowing registrations as late as Election Day.
Last week, Democrats in the U.S. House asked secretaries of state in all 50 states to oppose voter identification laws.
The United Federation of Teachers, the health care workers' union 1199SEIU, National Council of La Raza and the Asian-American Legal Defense Fund were among the groups represented at Tuesday's news conference. George Gresham, the president of 1199SEIU, said that his organization would bus 10,000 of its members from around the state and the mid-Atlantic region to participate in the Dec. 10 protests.