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NAACP, teachers union part of group buying $1M ad spot in federal voting rights bill fight

The ads spotlight voters in New Hampshire, Georgia and Arizona who would be particularly affected by state-level voting restrictions or the expansions proposed in the federal bill.
Protesters gather to protest HB 531, which would place tougher restrictions on voting in Georgia, in Atlanta on March 4, 2021.
Protesters gather to protest HB 531, which would place tougher restrictions on voting in Georgia, in Atlanta on March 4.Dustin Chambers / Reuters file

A coalition of 15 prominent political organizations, advocates and labor groups is taking its support of a sweeping federal voting rights bill to the airwaves with a million-dollar ad campaign set to debut Monday, the group said.

It is the first major ad campaign for the Democracy for All 2021 Action coalition, which includes the NAACP, the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of Teachers, the progressive groups MoveOn and Demos Action, the environmental groups the Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters, and the Working Families Party.

The 30-second spots will air in New Hampshire, Georgia, Arizona and Washington, D.C.

"It's a matter of making sure that the public knows what the real deal is and making sure that the Senate knows that we're watching," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. "Those who have been disenfranchised know they've been disenfranchised, but we need to make the case to the public that none of us should lose the protection of the most sacred right we have in the United States, which is the right to vote and to elect our political leaders."

The ads spotlight a voter in the three states whose experience would be particularly affected by voting restrictions or by the expansions that would be mandated by the For the People Act — or both.

The legislation, which passed in the House last month, seeks to change campaign finance, voting and ethics laws. The bill would also expand access to the ballot box in many states by creating federal standards for voting access, including automatic voter registration, early voting, and modernized voting systems.

"We represent millions of people who are directly impacted by what happens in Washington, and we just want to make sure those voices aren't lost in some of the wonky discussion," Dan Kalik, senior political adviser at MoveOn, said of the coalition's large membership base.

In one ad, a New Hampshire teacher and father says he won't be able to vote if the lines are too long, pointing out that the state doesn't have any early voting options. In another, a Georgia hotel worker says she's tired of having her vote suppressed. In Arizona, a disabled veteran says he can't stand in line to exercise his voting rights and worries that lawmakers are making it harder to vote by mail.

The ads will air on broadcast through Sunday and online through April 26. The For the People Act is expected to get its first debate in the Senate on May 11, said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., chair of the Rules and Administration Committee, which will initially work on the bill.

The fight over voting rights has reached new heights: Hundreds of corporations and business leaders signed a joint letter last week opposing discriminatory voting legislation, and top private law firms began forming a coalition to send lawyers to fight restrictions that pass in court.

Republicans have pushed back against the corporate pressure campaign, arguing that legislation is critical to restore trust in elections. Former President Donald Trump repeatedly and falsely claimed that the 2020 election was stolen from him by fraud. There is no evidence of widespread fraud in U.S. voting systems; by all official accounts, the election was secure, and the results were certified as accurate.

More than 350 restrictive voting bills are under consideration in 47 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law; advocates say that highlights the acute need for federal voting legislation, which they say would block the vast majority of the restrictions being weighed in the states.

"When we began to look at the law that was passed in Georgia, it feels eerily similar to some of the efforts in the 1930s, '40s, '50s to really suppress the vote of African Americans," said Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP. "That should not be tolerated."

Ralph Quintana, the disabled veteran featured in the Arizona ad, said that he is a registered independent and that he believes the For the People Act would make politicians more responsive to voters across the board.

"We should be making it easier for people to vote, and what I see happening countrywide is the opposite," he said. "I truly believe H.R. 1/S.R. 1 will make both parties have to appeal to the voters more. I truthfully don't even know if the Democrats understand that."