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Statement of Voting Rights to UN Human Rights Committee
(GENEVA, Switzerland) – The NAACP issued the following statement read before a hearing of the United Nations Human Rights Committee ahead of the US ICCPR review:
This statement is made on behalf of The ACLU of Florida, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, The Navajo Nation, FSU Center for the Advancement of Human Rights, and The NAACP.
As detailed in the shadow reports submitted by numerous U.S.-based organizations, we are deeply concerned by continuing efforts across the country to restrict access to the ballot.
As a result of the 2013 Supreme Court Decision in Shelby County vs. Holder – Today there remains no protection for millions of citizens whose voting rights have come under attack as a result of local and state laws.
For example, last month in Ohio, “Golden Week” was eliminated – this was a week during the early voting period when the state permitted same-day voter registration.
In local communities across the nation, there have been numerous proposals to change election dates, dilute minority voting power through changes from single member to at large voting, and an increase in the removal of polling locations-- largely in minority populations.
Another example is in Arizona where the absence of voter protections has had a deep and disparate impact on the Navajo Nation and other communities of color especially indigenous peoples.
These are only a few examples of a deep and large problem in the United States.
The absence of protections provided by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act continue to result in a denial of laws that disenfranchise voters.
With regard to Felony Disenfranchisement-- Today, nearly 5.8 million U.S. citizens continue to be stripped of their voting rights on a temporary or permanent basis, including more than 4.4 million citizens who are no longer incarcerated. More than 2 million are African American, yet African Americans make up less than 13% of the U.S. population. Every day additional citizens are stripped of their voting rights as a result of their interaction with the Criminal Justice system.
In a February 2014 address, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called on state officials “to pass clear and consistent reforms to restore the voting rights of all who have served their terms in prison or jail, completed their parole or probation, and paid their fines.” Currently, states have vastly different approaches to voting with a criminal conviction while on probation or parole.
While we applaud the Attorney General’s statements highlighting the disparate impact of disfranchisement laws on minority communities, we believe the U.S. should be seeking more expansive rights nationwide for people with felony convictions.
* We urge the Human Rights Committee to recommend that the U.S. Department of Justice to vigorously enforce all provisions of federal voting rights laws, including the Voting Rights Act and the National Voter Registration Act.
* We urge the Human Rights Committee to recommend to the U.S. Government, that it actively speak out against restrictive voting laws, including detailing the impact of such laws on minority and other voters and encourage state governments to reform restrictive voting laws.
* We also urge the Human Rights Committee to recommend that the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Prisons take administrative steps immediately to provide information to incarcerated individuals regarding voting rights restoration upon release and return to their home state. The Democracy Restoration Act would require similar reforms.
* In addition, we urge the Human Rights Committee to recommend the Department of Justice require federal prosecutors to provide notice to defendants in federal criminal cases regarding the loss of their right to vote as a result of a plea agreement to a felony or a felony conviction.
The problems of voting, the denial of voting rights to the District of Columbia, and felony disenfranchisement have been longstanding, far reaching, and only add to the multitude of collateral consequences these individuals already face, and are counterproductive to a democratic society.
We have provided you with a list of experts joining us today and we look forward to answering any questions that you may have.