chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
August 03, 2021

Annual 2021: Top voting rights advocates unite to combat voter suppression

On July 8, civil rights leaders from across the nation met with President Joe Biden to deliver a message: You must do more to protect voting rights. They said national legislation is desperately needed.

One of those leaders – Sherilynn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund – spoke after the White House meeting.

“Our backs are against the wall,” Ifill said. “This is the moment. We have no more time. I told the president: We will not be able to litigate our way out of this threat to Black citizenship… We must have the president use his voice.”

Ifill will be one of four featured panelists at a program on voting rights at the ABA Annual Meeting. The program, titled “Voting Rights: A Discussion on Legislation, Strategy and Developments in the Movement for Voting Justice,” will be held Aug. 4 at noon CDT. The lead sponsor is the ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities.

Other panelists will include:

  • Moderator Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
  • John Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice
  • William Kresse, member of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners

U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) will deliver opening remarks. As California’s secretary of state from 2015 to 2021, he oversaw California’s elections.

The panel will explore attempts in some states to limit early voting and other election procedures and will assess the evidence of voter fraud that some use to support new voting laws. The panel will also explore how federal legislation could affect these changes and whether the United States should move toward greater uniformity in voting procedures nationwide.

Since the 2020 presidential election, voting rights has become arguably the most controversial – and most partisan – issue in the country.

Many Republican-led states have passed, or are considering, new restrictions on voting procedures. Supporters say this is in response to concerns about voter fraud. Opponents say such concerns are phony and the new efforts are an attempt to suppress Democratic voters.

The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on July 1 with an important 6-3 ruling in the case of Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee. The majority, in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, upheld two actions by the state of Arizona to discount votes cast outside a voter’s assigned precinct and to ban so-called “vote harvesting.” The dissent, written by Justice Elena Kagan, complained that the majority decision improperly weakened voter protections in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Three panelists in the Aug. 4 program represent groups critical of Republican changes to voting procedures. Asian Americans Advancing Justice denounced the Supreme Court’s Brnovich decision, saying it “threatens the freedom to vote for Asian Americans and other communities of color.” The NAACP has filed a legal challenge against new voting restrictions in Georgia. MALDEF is trying to defeat new voting restrictions in the Texas legislature.

The fourth panelist, Kresse, is a Republican and one of three members of Chicago’s Board of Election Commissioners. He is a lawyer and accountant and former director of the Center for the Study of Fraud and Corruption.

The program is cosponsored by the ABA Civil Rights and Social Justice Section, the Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice, the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the Profession, the Standing Committee on Election Law and the Commission on Homelessness and Poverty.