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SPLC Announces $30 Million To Help Register Southern Voters Of Color

The Southern Poverty Law Center says it will make $30 million in grants available to nonprofit groups in five Southern states to help register and mobilize voters of color.

The campaign will go through this year's election, as well as the 2022 midterm elections.

"The United States has a long history of denying voting rights to its citizens, especially black and brown people, returning citizens and young people," said SPLC president Margaret Huang.

The grants, administered with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, will be targeted at efforts to increase voter participation in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi.

A spokesman said the SPLC had been planning the effort for a while, but widespread voting problems during the pandemic and recent protests against police violence have underscored what the group calls the need for such a campaign.

"This initiative is especially important right now, as each of us — and millions of people across the country — feel the urgency to make our voices heard this fall after the continued silence from our leaders on the many black people being killed by police," said Huang.

The effort is taking place amid intense fights in more than two dozen states over the rules governing this year's elections.

Democrats and their allies are pushing to expand voting options, particularly in light of the pandemic. Republicans are fighting many of those efforts, arguing that they will expose the voting system to fraud.

Voter advocacy groups argue that barriers — such as strict ID laws and limited polling sites — disproportionately hurt African Americans and other voters of color. The same goes for the devastating health impact of COVID-19 and the police violence at the center of ongoing protests.

The pandemic has also stalled most voter registration drives, which are usually geared to attract the kinds of voters the Southern Poverty Law Center is trying to help — young people and minorities.

There are numerous groups working in the five states on voting rights and outreach efforts already, but this money will certainly provide a substantial boost at a time when organizers' funding has been hurt by the pandemic and resulting economic downturn.

One round of grants will be awarded in early July, the SPLC said. A second round is scheduled to go out at the end of summer.

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Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.

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