NYT: States Raising Hurdles at Voting Booth
Monday, October 3rd, 2011
As if voting on Tuesday wasn’t bad enough, Michael Cooper at the New York Times reports this morning on a study from our friends at New York University’s Brennan Center which reveals fourteen states have passed or are working to change the rules to making voting harder for those eligible.
These restrictions will affect everyone — from students to first-time voters to seniors. One of the restrictive changes is occurring in five states that are rolling back opportunities for voters to cast ballots before Election Day. In other words, making voting Tuesday-or-bust.
Ohio passed a law eliminating early voting on Sundays, and Florida eliminated it on the Sunday before Election Day — days when some African-American churches organized “souls to the polls” drives for members of their congregations. Maine voted to stop allowing people to register to vote on Election Day — a practice that had been credited with enrolling some 60,000 new voters in 2008. Voters in Maine and Ohio are now seeking to overturn the new laws with referendums.
The long-running argument about enacting restrictive voting laws to stop voter fraud at the polls has also surfaced yet again. It’s an argument our board member Norm Ornstein has countered is misguided. I also learned firsthand on Election Day 2008 in North Dakota that voter fraud, even in the only state in the union without voter registration, doesn’t happen with any regularity or measurable impact. Even so, these laws keep coming.
Republicans, who have passed almost all of the new election laws, say they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, and question why photo identification should be routinely required at airports but not at polling sites. Democrats counter that the new laws are a solution in search of a problem, since voter fraud is rare. They worry that the laws will discourage, or even block, eligible voters — especially poor voters, young voters and African-American voters, who tend to vote for Democrats.
The Justice Department must review the new laws in several states to make sure that they do not run afoul of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter identification law in 2008, saying that while it found no evidence of the fraud the law was intended to combat, it also found no evidence that the new requirements were a burden on voters.
“This year there’s been a significant wave of new laws in states across the country that have the effect of cracking down on voting rights,” said Michael Waldman, the executive director of the Brennan Center, who noted that five million votes would have made a difference in both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. “It is the most significant rollback in voting rights in decades.”
As Norm has also pointed out, requiring voters to carry an approved ID is a major issue, as well.
The biggest impact, the Brennan Center said, will be from laws requiring people to show government-issued photo identification to vote. This year, 34 states introduced legislation to require it — a flurry of activity that Jennie Bowser, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures, called “pretty unusual.” Before this year, only two states, Indiana and Georgia, had “strict” photo identification requirements for voters, according to the conference. This year, five more states — Wisconsin, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas — passed laws to join their ranks.
South Carolina and Texas estimate that between them they have more than 800,000 registered voters who may not have acceptable forms of photo identification. While both states will offer free identification cards that would be acceptable at the polls, critics of the new laws worry that the added barrier to voting could discourage people from going to the polls. South Carolina estimates that 8 percent of its voters — 216,596 people — do not currently have the proper identification.
For the complete article, click here. You can bet we’ll be staying on top of this over the course of the next year.
Photo of guy jumping hurdle via bigvalleystrider on Flickr.