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Organized labor launches six-state voting rights effort

Still assessing the lessons of its crushing defeat in last week’s Wisconsin recall election, the AFL-CIO labor confederation partnered with minority and youth organizations Tuesday to launch a new effort in six battleground states to register and mobilize voters and to battle any legal impediments to voting.

The six target states: Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Florida and Nevada.

With support from organized labor and minority voters, President Obama carried all six of those states in 2008.

Two of them – Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – have enacted strict voter identification requirements but Wisconsin's law is being litigated and may not be in effect in November.

The Wisconsin voter ID requirement was suspended for last week’s recall election.

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker refused to tell reporters how much the labor confederation will spend on the voter effort but said, “We are putting every resource we have available and that means our human resource, which is the most valuable resource we have, behind this effort … We will have millions of people out there on the ground active participating in this process to ensure that voters are educated about what their rights are … and have what they need to have relative to voter ID.”

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She said union lawyers will help train polling place monitors who will serve as poll workers in some precincts. “We will be joining with others in (law)suits if necessary to make sure we can protect the right of people to vote…. This is a seamless kind of effort,” Holt Baker said.

The other groups joining the AFL-CIO are the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza and a coalition of progressive youth groups called Generational Alliance.

Andy Manis / Getty Images

Voters cast their ballots in a recall election for the governor and lieutenant governor at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center June 5, 2012 in Madison, Wisconsin.

When asked whether AFL-CIO strategists had done precinct-by-precinct analysis to see why labor failed in its effort to recall Republican Gov. Scott Walker last week – with Walker winning nearly 68,000 more voters than he did when he ran in 2010 – Holt Baker replied, “Some of the analysis is still being done,” but she said there was anecdotal evidence that some voters in Milwaukee were unable to vote due to lack of poll workers in some places.

“Don’t be fooled by Wisconsin,” she said, instead labor will learn from Ohio where it succeeded in a referendum in blocking a law restricting labor union rights.

“We hit our targets” last week in Wisconsin, said Mike Podhorzer, the AFL-CIO political director, but Walker’s allies outperformed organized labor in turning out Walker voters – “more than people expected ahead of time.”

One lesson Podhorzer cited in the Walker victory: “They spent a lot of money on mail in addition to TV. There have been reports in the media about (Walker allies) putting up large phone banks; they invested in belts and suspenders. They decided this was a race they couldn’t afford to lose.”

Podhorzer added that “we still don’t know who actually voted” since the voter file data won’t be available until July.