Dec 21, 2011 7:50 PM GMT
This is SO important. Please read and see if you can do anything to prevent voter suppression tactics in your state.
Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNetIf you are a member of a racial minority, student or young voter, working poor, elderly or disabled, your ability to vote may be a lot harder in 2012—especially if you live in states that have a history of racial repression during the Civil Rights Movement. Simply put, the Republican Party knows which segments of society helped to elect President Obama and other Democrats in 2008, knows tens of millions of these people did not vote in the 2010 midterms, and has worked very hard to stop these people from voting again next year.
Their strategy has been simple: raise the barriers by complicating the rules to register to vote, to get a ballot, to vote early, or speedily. What follows are seven major trends that will affect you if you live in a state with new rules. Republicans know that most people do not pay attention to the fine print of election law. They get excited in the final days before presidential votes. But that may not be good enough in 2012.
Whether you are encouraged, discouraged or something in between about the coming presidential season, if you want to vote, look at these trends described below, see if you live in one of these states, and plan ahead: to register, to get the right ID, and to know where you can vote. If you don’t, the Republicans may silence your vote and voice.
“Heading into 2012, we are seeing the largest assault on the right to vote since the post-Reconstruction Era,” said Denise Lieberman, senior attorney with Advancement Project, a national civil rights organization. “This is an unprecedented attack on voting that could affect more than 5 million voters in 2012; in states that represent nearly two-thirds of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency. Twenty new laws and executive orders in 14 states stand to turn back the clock and make it harder to vote. In 2012, two-thirds of the states introduced legislation that could impede voters and more is on the horizon for 2012.”
Tactic One: Toughen Voter ID Requirements
Before this year, most states allowed voters to use all kinds of identification, even utility bills, to get a ballot. Not anymore. Now a non-expired, state-issued photo ID is needed in eight states: Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. Looking at 2012, similar bills or ballot measures to toughen ID rules will surface in New Hampshire, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, Maine, Minnesota and Missouri, where legislation already has been filed.
Before 2011, only two states, Georgia and Indiana, prevented voters from casting ballots if they did not have a government-issued photo ID. In 16 mostly southern states with a history of Jim Crow laws, the Justice Department must “pre-clear,” or approve, any change to voting laws before they can take effect. The ID laws in Alabama, South Carolina and Texas have not yet been cleared. Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder gave a major voting rights speech opposing all voter suppression tactics. But the Justice Department has not yet made a determination about these and other new voting laws in "covered" states.
Here’s why this is such a devious strategy. The GOP knows most Americans have little sympathy for people who lack photo ID. Polls by Democrats show that. There is a class divide here, where minorities and lower-income people, including students, disproportionately lack state-issued photo IDs. College ID cards are not the same. The GOP also knows that recent presidential elections often come down to very close votes in a handful of states, and many people in those states will want to vote next fall but will discover they cannot.
The voting eligible population of Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, which all have new ID laws, is 29 million. Of that, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School has reported that 10.3 percent—or 3.2 million voters—lack a state photo ID. In those states, Lieberman said the number of voters without the requisite photo ID is larger than the margin of victory in the 2008 presidential or U.S. Senate (Texas) races. In other words, with one change in law, the GOP will require Democrats and Independents to do a better job turning out voters in 2012 than they did in 2008 when electing Obama.
Tactic Two: Create Hurdles To Get Required ID
It takes time, money, patience and determination to get the required photo IDs. In some states, state budget crises have led to shortening the work weeks at the state agency, notably motor vehicles, or even closing branch offices—such as in Wisconsin, Tennessee and Texas—where people need to go to get the ID. The ID itself may cost between $10 and $30, but there can be hidden costs if other forms of identification are needed to verify one’s identity and residency necessary to get a state ID. For example, not everybody has a birth certificate, marriage license, passport, divorce record or other documents, adding a complicating and time-consuming factor.
The requirements for secondary IDs, if available, can cost upward of $200 (for naturalization papers, not passports), and 17 states require a photo ID to get a copy of a birth certificate, which by itself can take weeks or months. Many elderly people born at home simply do not have these underlying papers, transportation or funds to get the required voting ID. These bureaucratic steps amount to a poll tax, a notorious tactic used to stop African Americans and poor whites from voting.
Tactic Three: Intimidate Voter Registration Groups
The Republican Party knows that the majority of people who register to vote in registration drives tend to be in minority and low-income communities, and are likely to vote for Democrats, if they vote at all. They also know that voter registration drives can be sloppily run, with errors on as many as one-third of all the applications tuned in, although local election administrators are well-versed in weeding out bad forms (although they resent the last-minute workloads).
As a result, seven states tried to add new restrictions on groups and their members doing voter registration drives in 2011, and these laws passed in Florida and Texas. The restrictions in these populous states must be pre-cleared by the Justice Department, which has yet to act. But the impact of these laws—which, in Florida, creates a more rigorous schedule to turn in applications and imposes stiff fines for errors—has already discouraged some groups, such as Florida’s League of Women Voters, from even getting started for 2012. In addition to Florida and Texas, Michigan is also considering legislation to more aggressively regulate the registration drives.
Tactic Four: Try To Eliminate Same-Day Registration
In recent years, states have tried to make the voting process easier—not harder. One of the most convenient ways to help people to vote is to allow them to register at the polls or county offices and then vote. In 2011, Republicans in Maine and Ohio eliminated same-day registration, although citizen-led organizing overturned the Maine law on Election Day this past November and put a ballot initiative on the November 2012 Ohio ballot, suspending a package of draconian election laws until that vote. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s legislature will consider a bill ending same-day registration next year.
Another hurdle concerns proof of citizenship. Arizona was the first state to require proof of citizenship to register to vote, but that law has been tied up in court. Meanw