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Keeping Down the Black Vote

March 26, 2009

Contact: Tim Rusch or Gennady Kolker, Demos, or (212) 633-1405

Keeping Down the Black Vote

3/26 Demos Forum on the Disenfranchisement of African American and Latino Voters

New York, NY--Despite widespread voter mobilization and interest during the 2008 presidential election, there remain persistent challenges and flaws in our election system that suppress the vote and disfranchise people of color, specifically African Americans and Latinos.

On March 26, 2009, Demos, a national, non-partisan public policy center, along with the Community Service Society and the National Institute for Latino Policy, hosted a conversation with the authors of the newly published “Keeping Down the Black Vote: Race and the Demobilization of American Voters.” Demos Senior Fellow Lorraine Minnite, along with co-authors Frances Fox Piven and Margaret Groarke, spoke about the evolution of new tactics to suppress the vote, some of which adopt the mantle of “election reform.” In their sharply argued new book, three of America’s leading experts on party politics and elections demonstrate that our political system is as focused on stopping people from voting as on getting Americans to go to the polls.

About the Speakers:

Lorraine C. Minnite is a Senior Fellow at Demos, Professor of American and Urban Studies at Barnard College, and the former Associate Director of the Center for Urban Research and Policy at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs. Her research is concerned with issues of equality, social and racial justice, political conflict and participation, and voting behavior.

Margaret Groarke is a Professor of Government and Director of the Peace Studies program at Manhattan College. She has published many articles on voting rights and suppression, and has conducted extensive research on the effectiveness of the National Voter Registration Act. Dr. Groarke also serves as co-chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Association.

Frances Fox Piven is a Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at The Graduate Center, City University of new York. In 1983, she co-founded Human SERVE, the group instrumental in helping pass the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. Dr. Piven has been honored with numerous awards, including the American Sociological Association Career Award for the Practice of Sociology, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Sociology Association, and the Tides Foundation Award for Excellence in Public Advocacy.


March 26, 2009
Contact: Tim Rusch, Demos, (212) 389-1407 or



Washington, DC--On Wednesday, March 25, 2009, Demos joined the Leadership Conference On Civil Rights and numerous other civil rights organizations in filing an amicus brief urging the United States Supreme Court to uphold the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, in Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District No. 1 v. Holder, a case that will be argued April 29, 2009. In connection with the filing of the brief, Brenda Wright, Legal Director of the Democracy Program at Demos, made the following statement:

"The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has rightly been called the most important civil rights legislation ever enacted by Congress. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires certain jurisdictions with the most entrenched history of racial discrimination in voting to seek ‘pre-clearance’ from the U.S. Department of Justice or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia before making changes in their voting procedures, has been central to the progress this nation has made since 1965 toward overcoming barriers to registration, voting and equal representation. Time and again, the protections of Section 5 have prevented backsliding by covered jurisdictions, blocking both blatant and subtle efforts to disfranchise protected racial and ethnic minorities or to dilute their voting strength.

"In NAMUDNO v. Holder, the Supreme Court this Term will rule on a challenge to the constitutionality of Section 5, which Congress voted to re-authorize for a 25-year period in 2006. The amicus brief we have filed today with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and other partners argues that eliminating the protections of Section 5 would ignore the continuing evidence of racial discrimination in voting in the covered jurisdictions and undermine the advances our nation has made over the past 40 years. The brief quotes the words of prominent historian C. Vann Woodward during the previous extension of Section 5 in 1982, citing a critical lesson of AmericaÂ’s racial history:

[I]t makes evident and clear that that revolutions and advances in popular rights can be reversed; that history can move backward, that enormous gains can be lost and jeopardized, eroded, or diluted in spite of the enormous cost that those advances have made.

"Demos calls upon the Supreme Court to ensure that our nation does not turn back the clock on the hard-won advances we have made in securing the voting rights of all Americans under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act."

The amicus brief, testimony that Ms. Wright submitted before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and before the National Commission on the Voting Rights Act, in support of the re-authorization of Section 5, as well as the lower court decision upholding the constitutionality of Section 5 are available for download at

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