By Nicole Kief, State Strategist for the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, and Selene Kaye, Advocacy Coordinator for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project.
California millionaire Ward Connerly and his so-called "American Civil Rights Institute" are trying to pull a fast one on the voting public, but local ACLUs and their allies are working to preserve the integrity of the democratic process.
In five states across the country, Connerly is advancing the interests of the big construction companies for whom he lobbies by introducing ballot initiatives that would end affirmative action in public education, contracting and employment, including programs that level the playing field for women- and minority-owned businesses. His tactics are to misappropriate the terminology of the real civil rights movement by telling voters they can end race- and gender-based "discrimination" and to conceal the fact that his initiatives would end the affirmative action programs that truly promote equal opportunity. Connerly and his allies have not merely failed to inform voters of the purpose and effects of their initiatives, but have gone so far as to describe their petitions as supporting the very programs they seek to abolish.
In addition to deliberately misleading voters about the intentions of his anti-equal opportunity initiatives, Connerly pays professional petition circulators who engage in a variety of fraudulent practices to collect enough signatures to place these initiatives on the ballot. As if it weren’t undemocratic enough to mislead voters, Connerly’s folks appear to be blatantly fabricating voters. The signatures collected to support the Oklahoma version of the initiative, for instance, were found by the Oklahoma Secretary of State to have serious irregularities, including circulators signing their own petitions multiple times and numerous duplicate names and addresses. In response, the ACLU of Oklahoma teamed up with other civil rights advocates, political leaders and business leaders to file a protest before the Oklahoma Supreme Court challenging the validity of the signatures, sending a clear message that Oklahoma voters will not allow Connerly to corrupt their political process.
In Oklahoma, Colorado, Missouri , Nebraska and Arizona, advocates are working to bring the truth about Connerly’s motives and tactics to their fellow citizens. Whether or not voters support affirmative action, they have a right to know what it is that they are voting on, and should be wary of Connerly’s attempts to fool them.