By Amanda Litvinov
“Stand Your Ground: Vote!” That’s the message that the Unity 2012 Voter Empowerment Campaign hopes resonated throughout African-American communities nationwide on Election Day.
Unity ’12 is a non-partisan coalition of organizations that share a common goal of protecting voting rights, promoting civic engagement in the African-American community and turning out voters on Election Day. The chief convening organization is the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation (NCBCP), alongside partners like the NAACP and NEA.
“In 14 states across the country, including seven battleground states, Unity ’12 has been doing registration, voter education intended to protect voter rights, and get out the vote efforts,” said NCBCP President Melanie Campbell. In the ever-important battleground state of Ohio, Unity ’12 and the Ohio Education Association led robust get out the vote campaigns in Dayton, Akron, and Youngstown.
Campbell said a primary challenge in this election cycle has been to educate voters about their rights in light of restrictive new photo ID laws that pose a particular threat to the voting rights of people of color, students and lower income individuals. Tonight, from a command center at the NEA headquarters in Washington, the coalition is collecting information on voting irregularities caused by those laws or any other issues at the polls.
“For the past 10 years we’ve convened at an Election Day command center, where we monitor what’s going on, both so we can get the word out and to collect information that can help us determine what needs to be done moving forward,” said Dr. Elsie Scott of Howard University’s Ron W. Walters Leadership and Policy Center.
The command center receives reports from coalition partner staff in the states. Immediate problems are directed to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, whose lawyers are poised to address voting issues in every state. Trends and significant events are shared with the media and the public on social media sites and blogs.
As of 5 p.m. ET, serious concerns had cropped up in places like Pennsylvania, where voting machines had to be recalibrated or pulled. There were also a few reports of polls opening late and a shortage of provisional ballots.
All of those incidents will be included in a report that Unity ’12 will issue in the weeks following the election. But the work does not end there.
“The longer-term goal is to keep people engaged in policy discussions and the hard work of holding politicians responsible for the hard work of governing,” said Scott.
“We want more people to understand how and why they should be engaged year-round and why they need to vote in every election, not just vote for president. Most of those other elections directly affect them on a daily basis, even more so than the presidential election.”
Take, for example, the restrictive new voting laws the coalition has had to work so hard to counter in this election cycle.
“Those voter laws were a calculated attack,” said Scott, “and a lot of people were caught sleeping.”