NAACP Leaders Head to Geneva in Fight Over Voter-ID Laws

The NAACP hopes the U.N. will pressure states to change their voter-ID laws, which the group calls a violation of human and civil rights.

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NAACP President Benjamin T. Jealous (Getty Images)

NAACP leaders will go to the United Nation's Human Rights Council in Geneva next week in hopes of winning support in its fight against voter suppression in the United States, NAACP President Benjamin T. Jealous said on Thursday.

The delegation's goal is to ask the U.N. to investigate multiple incursions into minority voting rights by certain states, Jealous told reporters during a conference call on Thursday afternoon.

The civil rights group also hopes that members of the U.N. will come to the U.S. "to look at the impact of the laws, look at the intent, render an opinion and make some recommendations about what actions we should take," Jealous said.

It is unknown how binding a U.N. recommendation would be, Jealous acknowledged. But a negative ruling would help shame state officials into doing the right thing, he said. Such a ruling could hurt states in the pocketbook because many leaders seek investments overseas, he said. "It's not good business to be seen as an active abuser of human rights," he said.

The NAACP is scheduled to make an oral presentation on March 14 and afterward will present its report titled "Defending Democracy: Confronting Modern Barriers to Voting Rights in America" (pdf), which was released in December. The report found that 11 percent of Americans do not have government-issued identification. Among African Americans, 25 percent do not have the documents required to vote.

The report also noted that 14 states, mostly Republican-led, have enacted 25 restrictive voting measures. Legislators in states that have passed the measures say the laws are important because they help prevent identity fraud at the ballot box.

"This will be the first time in decades that we as an organization are before the council with a specific complaint about actions being taken here in the U.S.," Jealous said. "The first time was in 1947, when W.E.B. Du Bois delivered his speech and appealed to the world.

"Now, like then, the principal concern is voting rights," Jealous continued. "In the past year, more states have passed more laws, pushing more voters out of the ballot box, than at any point since the rise of Jim Crow. We have seen at least 5 million voters have their votes blocked by specific states like South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi, Wisconsin and so forth during the past 12 months. These include strict voter-ID bills, so-called registration-ID bills, bans on formerly incarcerated people voting and a range of other mechanisms that diminish access to the polls among minority populations."

In addition to Jealous, other members of the delegation will include NAACP Chairwoman Roslyn M. Brock; Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy; Kemba Smith, an activist and advocate for the rights of formerly incarcerated people, who will be unable to vote in the November election because of a law in Virginia that bans ex-felons from voting; and Trevor Brandon, a student at Texas Southern University and membership chairman of the school's NAACP chapter. Brandon recently lost his voting rights because of new photo-ID requirements in Texas, Jealous said.

"The U.N. is the world's forum for both promoting and defending democracy," Jealous said. "In these hyper-partisan times in the U.S., we believe it is important for them to weigh in on what is happening here in our democracy. Our democracy is precious, not just to the citizens of this country but to the world."