Election Protection 2004 

Volunteer watchdogs bite back

The 2000 election was a landmark in American politics. Not only was it one of only two instances in which the popular and electoral votes disagreed, it was also demonstrative of the fact that the technicalities of the voting process have become increasingly flawed. According to a study done by Caltech and MIT, four to six million voters, mostly from minority communities, were disenfranchised--in other words, denied their right to vote. Reasons included late processing of voter registration applications, improper purging of validly registered voters, mistakes in registration lists, late opening of polling locations, harassment and intimidation, early closure of polls with people still in line, malfunctioning machinery and inaccurate vote counts, among others.

The fallout left a lot of people wondering how to fix the problems, and three major organizations answered the call with "Election Protection 2004." The involved parties are the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, People for the American Way Foundation and the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, all of which helped design a non-partisan coalition of civil rights and civic organizations committed to protecting the right of all citizens to cast a ballot on Election Day. After the program was set up, the coalition targeted states like Florida, Arizona, Ohio, Texas, Michigan and Missouri, all identified as "Priority 1 Blue States" with histories of irregular voting and undue disenfranchisement.

Coincidently, these states also have large populations of minority groups, and the coalition hopes that by writing a Voters' Bill of Rights for each state, providing a hotline that offers immediate legal assistance to voters and implementing grassroots efforts, education and outreach programs prior to the election, that their voices will be heard, informed and counted in the final tally.

But there was still the problem of how to direct lost voters on the crucial day of November 2. So the coalition rounded up volunteers to man command centers in various cities around the country, and at least one of them hails from the City of Trees. Former Boise City Councilwoman Ann Hausrath will be in Tampa on Election Day helping potential voters cut through the red tape.

"I'm not Jimmy Carter or anything, but I will be there wearing an identifying t-shirt, holding a cell phone and trying to make sure that people who want to vote can, and that their votes will count," Hausrath said. She will be one of thousands trained over the phone and in intensive three-hour sessions the night before the election, their one job to ensure that citizens who want to vote end up in the right place at the right time.

According to Hausrath, each volunteer will have a cell phone to call the EP hotline with any legal questions and a handbook to help them guide voters, whatever their political leanings.

"I believe absolutely in the fundamental rules of democracy--everybody should have the right to vote," she said. "People were deprived in 2000, and if my showing up in a t-shirt with a list helps ensure it doesn't happen again, I can do that."

To learn more about Election Protection or to register to vote, call 1-866-OUR VOTE or visit www.website.com.

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