A group of Black attorneys is mounting a nationwide effort to ensure voting rights in African American communities during the midterm elections, in response to a raft of restrictive state laws passed by conservative lawmakers.

The effort, known as the Young Black Lawyers’ Organizing Coalition, bills itself as “among the largest Black-led voter education efforts to identify and resist voter suppression tactics to ensure that their ballots are counted,” and will target voters in seven states: Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Our goal is to make sure that those Black voters are not only able to freely and fully vote themselves, but that they are also empowered to be ambassadors for voter protection information.
Abdul Dosunmu, Young Black Lawyers' Organizing Coalition

The initiative was started in 2019 by Abdul Dosunmu, who earned his law degree at New York University School of Law and served as a special assistant to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony R. Foxx during the Obama administration. He said he hopes to train 300 Black lawyers and law students, who will in turn give voting rights workshops to 60,000 voters in Black communities.

“Our goal is to make sure that those Black voters are not only able to freely and fully vote themselves,” said Dosunmu, “but that they are also empowered to be ambassadors for voter protection information.”

Attacks on voting

A December 2021 analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice found that at least 19 states passed 34 laws restrict­ing access to voting. Additionally, more than 440 bills with provi­sions that restrict voting access were intro­duced in 49 states. According to the Brennan Center, these measures, which include strict voter ID requirements, “disproportionately impact voters of color.”

Among the YBLOC organizers is Kendell Long, a second-year law student who serves as the political action chair for the Black Allied Law Students Association at NYU’s School of Law. He said the various voting rights restrictions passed in a number of states “can have a chilling effect on voting,” something that has been corroborated by Brennan.

The purpose of the YBLOC workshops, he said, is to “dispel confusion, dispel concern so that people can be empowered to participate in the process.” The nonpartisan group relies on public donations for its work.

Kayla Rooney, an associate at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, explained in an email that she she was drawn to the initiative because, “with the rise of Trump, ‘fake news’ and right-wing nationalism and the explicit and implicit encouragement from Republicans for outward intimidation and violence against Black communities and their ability to vote, it’s become increasingly important for me to find ways to protect that community through my role as a lawyer.”

Rooney cited a quote by Sherrilyn Ifill, former head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

“She said, ‘I don’t know of anything in the history of Black people in this country in which I’ve read some account in which it ended with, and then they gave up.’ That’s just not what we do.”

According to the Brennan Center survey, among the laws enacted since the beginning of 2021 are measures that make it more difficult to vote by mail, shrink the number of mail-in voter drop boxes, impose draconian voter ID requirements, punish election workers for routine conduct, empower partisan poll watchers, and eliminate Election Day voter registration.

“New citizens and new voters — who are disproportionately Latino — face special risks in encountering misinformation stemming from information gaps,” according to an Aug. 2 report by the Brennan Center.