Billionaire’s Bid for Voting Rights

Photograph by Keith Srakocic/AP Photo

The signs telling of the requirement for voters to show an acceptable photo ID as they head into the Penndot Drivers License Center in Butler, Pa.

Billionaire William Louis-Dreyfus has pledged $1 million, and is inviting other wealthy people to do the same, to help prevent people from being precluded from voting.

“I am one of you, and I am worried like you about our nation,” he writes on an open letter at the Web site of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. “But there is a special fear. More than anything else, I am terrified by the threat that now exists to the most basic element of our democracy.”

The French-born American businessman says he has retired from “the work that made me rich” — as chairman and president of Impala SAS, a holding company involved in energy distribution. The Duke University Law graduate is the great-grandson of the company’s founder and the father of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who played Elaine Benes in the television comedy, “Seinfeld.”

The billionaire’s “call to arms” arrives as voter identification laws in several states are being challenged in court, with political activists arguing that laws requiring photo identification or limiting early voting will tend to suppress voter turnout on Election Day, Nov. 6.

The open letter was published in a full-page New York Times ad.

If any election were to be decided based on a suppression of voting, the 80-year-old Louis-Dreyfus writes, “then a poison will have been injected in the blood of our democracy.”

The money will be channeled to nonpartisan organizations “combatting” voter suppression both in November and in the future, he writes.

Money raised by the appeal will support the center’s work in protecting voter rights, preventing illegitimate purging of voter rolls and preparing for future work in the registration of voters, says Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, director of communications for the Brennan Center. “We will continue to fight for elections that are free, fair and accessible,” Plant-Chirlin said.

Bob Drummond contributed to this report. 


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