Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center Nancy Abudu, deputy legal director, Southern Poverty Law Center (Courtesy photo)

The Southern Poverty Law Center announced Tuesday the formation of a new Voting Rights Practice Group to target voter suppression in the Deep South.

The news came a day after SPLC Deputy Legal Director Nancy Abudu testified at a field hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on House Administration in Birmingham, Alabama.

Abudu, who will lead the new practice group, told the committee that people of color in Alabama are still subjected to intentional barriers to exercising their right to vote.

The SPLC is based in Birmingham, with offices in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, as well as Alabama. The new practice group will:

  • Work toward ending the lifetime voting ban for people with felony convictions, and registering both those who have completed their sentences and those in jails and prisons who remain eligible to vote;
  • Denounce partisan gerrymandering;
  • Advocate for the expansion of the Voting Rights Act and other legal protections at the federal level; and
  • Engage in legislative efforts to expand access to the democratic process, including automatic voter registration, same-day registration, no-excuse absentee voting, vote by mail, and expanded early voting—or, in states such as Alabama and Mississippi, finally establishing those practices used widely by neighboring states, allowing more people to vote.

“At the SPLC, we believe that voting is a human right and that robust access to the franchise strengthens our democracy, our culture and our communities,” Abudu said in the news release. “We also know full well that our nation’s history is inextricably linked with generations of struggle to expand voting rights. To this day, communities of color, young people and people experiencing poverty are routinely disenfranchised by discriminatory laws and partisan gerrymandering. For all of our efforts, the legacy of Jim Crow is still with us.”

Karen Baynes-Dunning, the organization’s interim president and CEO, was quoted in the announcement saying the SPLC “honors the civil rights martyrs who gave their lives so that all people would have access to the ballot box.” She said the group is “fighting back against the recent surge in voter suppression,” adding “the future of our democracy is at stake.”