DC Influencer: Barbara Arnwine, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Barbara Arnwine, executive director and president, Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, talks about protecting the rights of voters in 2014.

What will you focus on in 2014?
Our biggest initiatives fall into three areas: Voting rights, educational opportunities, and criminal justice.

We anticipate a very active litigation schedule, mainly involving minorities, students, and people with disabilities. This year is huge for all Americans because of the mid-term elections. There will be a great deal of focus on Congress, and there will be gubernatorial elections.

We will spend a lot of time protecting the rights of voters against unfair practices. Three focuses are fighting voter suppression, supporting legislation, and making sure communities are not impaired by a lack of justice to prevent voting.

What are the biggest obstacles to educating the public about their rights as voters?
People do not think about voting until it is time to vote. That is a huge problem. Getting the American public's attention months in advance, when the election is nine months away, is very hard. There are a lot of economic distractions, too.

A lot of voter administration and voter changes are done out of the public eye. It is not a huge event, such as the Super Bowl, where people are keeping a keen eye on these processes.

The nature of the legislative process makes it difficult for people to understand, especially when hearings are held in the middle of the day.

How do you plan an outreach strategy without any new legislation protecting voters' rights from Congress?
The Lawyers' Committee is facilitating a National Commission on Voting Rights and we will conduct about 27 hearings throughout the country.

We are working closely with organizations to conduct the hearings with a series of guest speakers and witnesses, as well as regular American voters.

The committee works with more than 150 local, statewide, and national organizations. Our coalition is growing, and it's not just about numbers, it's also about outreach to communities.

We focus on improving the skills of people in these communities - such as training citizens to recognize and monitor voter suppression in local jurisdictions. We are also educating Americans so they know what their rights are, and they have to be vocal in making sure their states do not impose unnecessary barriers.

It is going to be a busy season with a lot of training, leveraging all of our communications and media vehicles to tell voters what they need to do to empower themselves.

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