Two blocks from the White House, in a conference room on the fourth floor of a nondescript office building, voting rights advocates are fighting on the front line of the voting wars. Welcome to the headquarters of Election Protection, a program run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and a multitude of civil rights organizations that seeks to combat the wave of restrictive voting laws that have swept state legislatures in the past few years. “I was here in 2000 when the debacle happened in Florida. That really led to civil rights groups coming together and saying we have to have a paradigm shift in the way that we view elections,” Barbara R. Arnwine, President & Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told TPM in an interview at their office, which doubles as headquarters for the Election Protection’s hotline number.
“Our normal modus operandi was to always wait until after the election and then to bring lawsuits or whatever challenges were appropriate after that time. But for the first time we realized that voter suppression was being used as a tactic to really drive down the participation of African-Americans in that instance,” she said. “We couldn’t wait until after the election, we had to do preventative election protection, and that’s how the whole concept originated,” Arnwine said. “The landscape has shifted on us, and we had to acknowledge that we had to shift our tactics.”
The Election Protection coalition consists of about 60 groups and partnerships with countless others. One key feature: a hotline that provides Americans with “comprehensive voter information and advice on how they can make sure their vote is counted.” A new addition this year: a SmartPhone application that Election Protection hopes will create countless advocates who sign up their friends.