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SPLC launches new Voting Rights Practice Group

Evan Mealins

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The Southern Poverty Law Center announced on Tuesday the formation of a Voting Rights Practice Group focused on fighting voter suppression, voter disenfranchisement and partisan gerrymandering around the country, primarily in the Deep South.

On Monday, the group took its first official action at a congressional field hearing in Birmingham titled, “Voting Rights and Election Administration in Alabama.” SPLC Deputy Legal Director Nancy Abudu, who leads the practice group, testified at the hearing.

“As we all know, Alabama has long been ground-zero in the fight for voting rights, and it remains so today, unfortunately,” Abudu said.

Abudu spoke about several issues with state voting laws that the SPLC has witnessed and investigated in Alabama, including voter registration and photo ID laws, which she said are “directly linked to the actions and inactions of state officials who see voting as a privilege to be earned rather than a fundamental right to safeguard.”

The Voting Rights Practice Group’s goal to enfranchise vulnerable communities also includes registering people currently or formerly in the prison system who are eligible to vote and working to end the lifetime voting ban placed on people with felony convictions.

According to a 2016 report by The Sentencing Project, an estimated 282,266 Alabamians with convictions did not have the right to vote in 2016, around 7.62 percent of the state’s voting age population. Of these disenfranchised Alabamians, 143,924 were African-American — 15.11 percent of the Alabama African-American voting age population. This lifetime voting ban for those convicted of a felony is disproportionately harmful to African-Americans, the SPLC says.

“For all of our efforts, the legacy of Jim Crow is still with us,” Abudu said in a press release.

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As the 2020 Census and redistricting cycle of federal, state and local legislative districts quickly approach, the Voting Rights Practice Group also seeks to educate historically disenfranchised groups about the redistricting process and how to play a role in the redrawing of political districts.

Alabama has had its share of trouble with gerrymandering in the past, including a 2017 federal case that deemed 12 of Alabama’s 36 legislative districts unconstitutional.

“We fight for voting rights because the future of our democracy is at stake,” said Karen Baynes-Dunning, interim president and CEO of the SPLC.

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