NAACP President On Safeguarding Your Vote Election 2008 could break all voter turnout records, and many civil and voting rights groups — including the NAACP — are working to make sure every vote is counted. Farai Chideya speaks with NAACP President Benjamin Jealous about how people can protect their vote.
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NAACP President On Safeguarding Your Vote

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NAACP President On Safeguarding Your Vote

NAACP President On Safeguarding Your Vote

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I'm Farai Chideya, and this is News & Notes.

Tomorrow marks the end of the longest presidential campaign to date. This election looks like it might break all voter turnout records, and plenty of civil and voting rights groups are out there working to make sure you have a place to turn if you're having trouble voting. One of them is the NAACP. In September, Benjamin Jealous became the youngest man to lead the country's oldest and largest civil rights organization. He's got plenty of information about how to protect your vote. Ben, how are you?

Mr. BENJAMIN JEALOUS (National President, NAACP): I'm doing well.

CHIDEYA: So you are the head of this storied organization that has had so much to do with African-Americans in voting. You think about where we've been in the past decade with the contested 2000 election. What should people know firstoff about going to the polls and doing it in a way that protects their vote?

Mr. JEALOUS: You know, there's really two things that I say to folks. You know, first is that you should be prepared, you know. You should really think about the time you need and make sure, you know, if you need to have somebody to watch the kids that you just take care of it. This is one of the most important things that you'll do in the next year, and just be prepared.

The other is to have a number, 866-O-U-R-V-O-T-E, 866-OURVOTE with you. Because if you have any problem, if you feel like you weren't treated fairly, to not - you know, if the line is hours and hours long and they're not offering you a provisional ballot, if you know that you signed up to vote and they're saying that you're not the list, if you dial 1-866-O-U-R-V-O-T-E, there are lawyers who will come to your aid right away. And we've - we, working with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, have made a tremendous effort to make sure that the hundreds of thousands of voters who have problems will have somebody who can help them.

CHIDEYA: What is it like being the head of the NAACP and watching this election unfold? What does it feel like to you to watch things unfold from the perspective where you are now?

Mr. JEALOUS: You know, it's a tremendous feeling. You really feel like you have a view from the shoulders of generations. You know, I'm a fifth-generation member of the association, and we've been working for this moment implicitly since our founding and really explicitly since 1960. You know, just generations of activists registering people to vote. You know, suing local governments to make sure that blacks could run for various offices.

But you know, work has been done by generations with discipline to get us to a point where finally, 230 years after - 232 years after the founding of this republic, we have a multi-racial, multi-gender race. And it's incredible.

CHIDEYA: Let's go back to some of the practical issues because it strikes me that one of the people who certainly knows so much about politics, Donna Brazile, mentioned something about what can go wrong with the vote. In the year 2000, her sister encountered problems. She was asked by authorities to provide multiple forms of ID on her way to vote. And she called up Donna, and Donna, of course, was like, well, that's not the way things are supposed to work.

Mr. JEALOUS: Right.

CHIDEYA: But there is voting law and then there's practice. And hopefully they're usually pretty close together. But what should people do if they're being pressured? You gave out the 800 number, but if they're pressured by authorities, that can be a very delicate situation. So should people directly challenge the authorities if they think that they're being misled or steered wrong?

Mr. JEALOUS: They should request a provisional ballot. By law, they're required to give you a provisional ballot if you request, even if you don't show up on their list. You know, even if the address on your driver's license is different than what they have on their list. And so they should just request a provisional ballot, fill it out. It will be counted and it will be verified. And that's, you know, that's - people need to know their rights and they need to stand their ground.

The reality is that black people, women, people of color in this country have all fought to get to this moment, and many people, you know, have died, have been beaten up trying to assert their right to vote in this country. So just standing there with backbone and saying, I know my rights, give me my provisional ballot, if you don't I'm going to dial 1-866-OURVOTE is the least you can do.

CHIDEYA: When people talk about voter suppression, there are a lot of different things they can be talking about. Do you believe that there is a risk of voter suppression in the 2008 election, and what form could it take?

Mr. JEALOUS: Yeah, I believe there's a certainty of it. I started out my career as a journalist covering races in Mississippi, and every year people would try to give black people bad information, and we at the local black newspaper would find ourselves, you know, working with the NAACP, trying to get out good information. They would go through black neighborhoods and pass out flyers saying don't forget to vote on Wednesday, for instance. I'm sure that tactic, which is one of the tried and true, will be tried again somewhere in this country.

CHIDEYA: Well, Benjamin Jealous, thank you so much.

Mr. JEALOUS: Thank you. It's a real pleasure.

CHIDEYA: Benjamin Jealous is the president of the NAACP.

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