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AUGUST 25, 2004
5:59 PM

Emilie Karrick 202-862-9888

AFL-CIO’S ‘My Vote, My Right’ Initiative Aimed at Curbing Voting Rights Abuses in 32 Communities in 12 States

WASHINGTON - August 25 - Through a non-partisan “My Vote, My Right” program, the AFL-CIO is working with allies in 32 communities in 12 states to educate citizens about their voting rights, help prevent the kinds of voting rights violations that marred the 2000 presidential election and urge voters to take advantage of new protections they enjoy under the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) passed by Congress in 2002.

“We’re determined to make sure every eligible voter who goes to the polls has an opportunity to cast his or her ballot and to insure that every vote is counted,” AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney told a national telephone press conference today.

Sweeney said the AFL-CIO and the AFL-CIO Lawyers Coordinating Committee are working with existing voter protection coalitions in some states and initiating them in others. “My Vote, My Right,” which is aimed at protecting all voters who go to the polls, is in addition to what Sweeney said is already the AFL-CIO’s biggest ever union member voter registration, education and mobilization effort.

“We’re already working hard in states like Arizona that have primary elections coming up,” said Cecelie Counts, AFL-CIO Director of Civil, Human and Women’s Rights. “We’re particularly concerned about treatment of African-American, Latino, Asian-American and Native American voters, who were disproportionately disenfranchised in the 2000 federal elections.”

“In virtually every state there is widespread confusion over some aspect of the new election rules, including the use of provisional ballots which are in danger of being overused and discarded without being counted,” Counts said. “We’re trying to get elections officials to move quickly to eliminate problems. We want to encourage voter participation by helping correct problems ahead of time and by letting people know someone will be at the polls to help them if they encounter difficulties.”

The AFL-CIO Lawyers Coordinating Committee, which has recruited hundreds of labor lawyers for voter protection work across the country, participated in the coalition that exposed the infamous “felon purge” list in Florida last month.

“We are working with voting rights advocates to address problems at every stage of the election process, from voter registration procedures, to polling place hours, to the use of provisional ballots as mandated under HAVA,” said Jonathan Hiatt, the AFL-CIO’s General Counsel, who also heads up the Lawyers Coordinating Committee.

“We’ve developed voter ‘bills of rights’ in all 12 states and have trained attorneys as well as union and voting rights activists on their states’ election laws.”

Teams of “My Vote, My Right” advocates are calling on election officials to express concern about changes in election procedures, voter education, and possible technical problems. Advocate teams are also alerting the media to problems and will be engaging in public education. The AFL-CIO is also distributing fliers to working families across the country to help them figure out how to comply with new voting rules, locate their correct polling place, vote early and make sure their vote is counted.

Communities singled out for attention from “My Vote, My Right” are in Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin – all so-called “battleground states” where the presidential election is expected to be very close. The AFL-CIO has full-time state and local coordinators on the ground in targeted areas who are partnering with AFL-CIO unions and constituency groups, community allies and local lawyers.

Sweeney said the AFL-CIO is working with allies to monitor the upcoming primary elections in six states and will hold press conferences afterward to dramatize and document the experiences of voters. Florida holds its primary on August 31st, Nevada and Arizona follow closely on September 7th, and Minnesota, Washington, and Wisconsin hold September 14th primaries.

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