Echoing civil rights struggles of the past, members unite to strategize fight against voter suppression

On October 18, more than 6,500 SEIU Healthcare Illinois and Indiana members came together over the phone to discuss recent attempts by the Republican Party to deny American citizens their right to vote—particularly African-Americans and Latinos.

HCII Vice President April Verrett and Chicago DORS PA Stephanie Knighten co-hosted the event, providing background on the issue, encouraging participants to share their stories, and administering opinion polls throughout the call.

Currently, Republicans in battleground states like Ohio, Florida, and Pennsylvania are trying to pass laws that would require all voters to provide photo identification in order to cast their ballots. Those in favor of the law say these measures are necessary to prevent voter fraud, but multiple studies have shown that very little voter fraud has even been attempted in the United States, and these laws do more to disenfranchise legitimate voters than they do to stop what little fraud exists.

In Wisconsin, for example, 84-year-old Ruthelle Frank was denied the right to vote because she’d been born at her mother’s home and the state of Wisconsin misspelled her name on her birth certificate, causing her to miss her first vote since 1948. In Indiana, two university students were turned away from the polls because they’d registered to vote using their dormitory addresses, but their student IDs showed their home addresses.

Our members had a lot to say on this subject, bringing the discussion back to voter suppression in the civil rights era as well as looking into the future to decide together what needs to be done to make sure all of us have the right to vote. Here is some of what members discussed:

Kelly Erving, Bloomington, IN

Kelly Erving, Bloomington, IN

Kelly Erving, Bloomington, IN

“In 2010, the Republican majority in Indiana was able to pass a photo ID law. The law disproportionately affected the votes of minorities, the elderly, and disabled voters, who usually vote Democrat. This definitely wasn’t a coincidence. People like elderly folks who were born at home, students, and even two retired nuns have been turned away for not having the right ID, but our biggest problem in Indiana is the closing of polls. The GOP have closed many poll locations and shut down voting at 6pm at others.

Now, I’m a working person. I want a candidate who supports working people. If I’m working long hours or a second job to support my family, I’m not going to be able to make it to vote before 6pm, and the Republicans know that. This isn’t about voter fraud—it’s a suppression tactic aimed at people who can’t afford to get the right ID or a birth certificate and people who are working when the polls close.”

Ella Giles, St. Louis, MO

Ella Giles, St. Louis

Ella Giles, St. Louis

“In Missouri, the GOP tried to pass an ID law twice, and we beat it—twice. We got together with our allies and pressured the governor, and stopped it. But if it had passed, more than 230,000 people wouldn’t be able to vote this November. These voters may not have the right type of identification, but they’ve been voting for years.

Like me. I never got a birth certificate with my name on it. It took me three months to get one and it cost $230, which a lot of people just can’t afford. Most of these people without IDs are low income, seniors, young people—all people who vote Democrat. The GOP is going to try this again, and we’re going to fight it again.”

Dale Burnett, Chicago, IL

Dale Burnett, front row, in Selma last March.

Dale Burnett, front row, in Selma last March.

“Back in March, I joined other HCII members on a trip to Selma, to commemorate the march that Dr. Martin Luther King led in 1965 to support the passage of the Voting Rights Act. It was inspirational, emotional, and enlightening—we met a lot of the people who were in the fight 47 years ago, who are still living and still in the fight.

I know people right now from Missouri who are getting locked out of this election because they don’t have ID. Students, legal immigrants, poor folks. It’s amazing to me that the things we fought for 50 years ago are still going on in 2012, that we could be moving backwards instead of forwards. It’s up to us to continue the fight our parents started.”

Our members are fired up and ready to overcome these obstacles, to make sure our right to vote is respected. In instant polls conducted during the call, more than half of participants agreed that voter fraud talk is really about stopping democrats from voting and giving the 1% an advantage, 88% of participants said they were very likely to educate their co-workers and friends about the fight to stop voter suppression, and a whopping 89% are already working to help working people win the historic election coming up on November 6th. Visit our Election Center to find out where and when to vote, and how you can get more involved in electing lawmakers who work for working people.


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