AFL-CIO Mounts Voter Registration Drive in Wake of Wisconsin Defeat

Posted June 12, 2012 at 12:28pm

Updated: 2:16 p.m.

Less than a week after failing to oust Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), unions and their allies announced a voter recruitment program aimed at countering a spate of new voter identification laws and restrictions on voter registration.

The AFL-CIO has launched an “unprecedented” campaign to register 500,000 new union voters in the key states of Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada, Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker said today. The goal, she said, is to raise union member turnout from 70 percent to 75 percent in November.

“Don’t be fooled by what happened in Wisconsin,” she told reporters. “You have over a million people that did sign that [recall] petition. … The bond and the connection in that community is stronger than ever.”

About one-third of those who voted in last week’s recall election were union members, up from 25 percent in the 2010 election, according to AFL-CIO data. More than three-quarters of them voted against Walker.

Still, Baker blamed groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council and the Tea Party Patriots for “widespread efforts to silence the votes of working people” by keeping union supporters away from the polls and she said the union hotline received more than 1,000 calls from people who said they were unable to vote.

Bills that require voters to show photo identification have been signed into law in eight states — Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — and passed by referendum in Mississippi. At least 34 states have introduced voter ID legislation.

A federal judge last week blocked key provisions of a Florida law that placed restrictions on community-based voter registration drives, forcing the League of Women Voters of Florida and other outside groups to shut down their activities. That same day, the Department of Justice demanded that state officials stop purging the voter rolls.

“We are facing a growing number of highly partisan governors across the country who are simply doing whatever they can to suppress the vote in several key demographics,” said Benjamin Jealous, the president and CEO of the NAACP, which is working with the unions to register African-American voters. “We are already gearing up for what we except to be tidal wave of voter suppression attempts in 2013.”

But conservatives and tea party groups, freshly energized by their victory in Wisconsin, point to the election as proof that labor has lost its footing.

“They overextended themselves in Wisconsin,” said Fred Wszolek, a spokesman for the Workforce Fairness Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on private sector collective bargaining. “They showed that their bark is worse than their bite.”

The group is targeting Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Mark Pryor (Ark.) with online advertisements asking them to oppose “micro-unions,” small unions that seek to organize workers within a particular employer.

“There will be war on a thousand fronts,” said Ned Ryun, the founder and president of American Majority, a Texas-based tea party-type nonprofit that deployed more than a dozen field staff in Wisconsin and outfitted volunteers with tablet computer-based tools to target voters through phone banks and door knocking. “We fully intend to do what we did in Wisconsin in other states and quite frankly, in municipalities too.”

Baker declined to provide details on how much the AFL-CIO would spend on its counter effort.

“We are putting in every resource we have available and that means our human resource,” she said. “It will be a lot of person power out in the streets. We can never outspend the other side.”