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NAACP president targets new voting laws

In a pointed keynote address Monday, NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous urged members of the civil rights organization to stand up against restrictive state voting laws, which he compared to Jim Crow laws of decades past.

“Let us be clear, the right to vote is the right upon which all of our rights are leveraged and without which … none can be protected,” Jealous said at the annual convention of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, being held in downtown Los Angeles through Thursday.

He blamed “racist elements” in the “tea party” movement for new voting requirements, which he said have disenfranchised minority voters in dozens of states as President Obama prepares to seek reelection in 2012.

“Let us recognize the obvious,” Jealous said. “Our voting rights are under attack because we had a great breakthrough — the election of a black president. It was followed by a great backlash.”

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He cited new laws in 30 states that require voters to present approved photo identification at the polls. “Simply put, people who are too poor to own a car tend not to have a driver’s license,” he said.

In Wisconsin alone, he said, half of black adults and half of Latino adults are now ineligible to vote because of this requirement.

Jealous also took issue with laws in Georgia and Arizona that require voters to attach a copy of their driver’s license, birth certificate or passport to their registration forms. And in Florida, he said, the establishment of a five-to-seven-year waiting period before felons can vote would disqualify more than 500,000 voters, including 250,000 blacks.

Another major issue that Jealous cited was the plight of black men, who he said continue to face high rates of unemployment, incarceration and death.

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“There is a real need to systemically go after the policies, go after the practices which together add up to this dismal situation,” Jealous said after his address.

More than 5,000 people have gathered at the NAACP’s 102nd convention to discuss a wide-ranging policy agenda for the coming year.

After years of decline, the organization has enjoyed a resurgence. New and renewed memberships are up 24% over the first half of last year, making this the first time in 20 years that the number of dues-paying members has increased three years in a row, Jealous said. Membership now stands at about 230,000.

The number of online supporters has grown from 170,000 at the start of 2008 to more than 510,000 today, he said. In the same period, the number of individual donors increased from fewer than 20,000 to 107,000. Program departments that were closed have been reopened, and the organization expects to soon restore five shuttered regional offices.

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Under Jealous’ leadership, the organization has reached out to struggling minorities of all colors.

“We’ve zeroed in on the nexus of two actions,” Jealous said. “The first are the most urgent civil and human rights issues of the day and the second are the range of issues that keep people in poverty … That has really spoken to people in these times.”

alexandra.zavis@latimes.com


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