Posts Tagged ‘Voter ID’

The GOP’s War on Voting

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

As we get closer to the election and it remains a tight race between Obama and Romney, more attention is being paid to the obviously coordinated efforts of GOP legislatures and executive branch officials to suppress turnout by Democrats. These efforts range from the relatively innocuous sounding efforts to require voter ID, to an instance in Ohio where the Republican Secretary of State collaborated with local election officials to keep polls open later in Republican counties, while maintaining the same voting hours in Democratic counties.

One of the best summaries of these attempts was included in an Ari Berman article in Rolling Stone last year, which is worth quoting at length:

All told, a dozen states have approved new obstacles to voting. Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering. Florida and Texas made it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Maine repealed Election Day voter registration, which had been on the books since 1973. Five states – Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia – cut short their early voting periods. Florida and Iowa barred all ex-felons from the polls, disenfranchising thousands of previously eligible voters. And six states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures – Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin – will require voters to produce a government-issued ID before casting ballots. More than 10 percent of U.S. citizens lack such identification, and the numbers are even higher among constituencies that traditionally lean Democratic – including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans.

Since January, six states have introduced legislation to impose new restrictions on voter registration drives run by groups like Rock the Vote and the League of Women Voters. In May, the GOP-controlled legislature in Florida passed a law requiring anyone who signs up new voters to hand in registration forms to the state board of elections within 48 hours of collecting them, and to comply with a barrage of onerous, bureaucratic requirements. Those found to have submitted late forms would face a $1,000 fine, as well as possible felony prosecution.

This portion of the Florida law led to the League of Women voters cancelling all voter registration drives in Florida. It was eventually overturned by the courts.

Berman’s article goes on to discuss early voting, which initially had bipartisan support until it was used to great effect by the Obama campaign in 2008.

Florida and Ohio – which now have conservative Republican governors – have dramatically curtailed early voting for 2012…. early voting will be cut from 14 to eight days in Florida and from 35 to 11 days in Ohio, with limited hours on weekends. In addition, both states banned voting on the Sunday before the election – a day when black churches historically mobilize their constituents. Once again, there appears to be nothing to justify the changes other than pure politics. “There is no evidence that any form of convenience voting has led to higher levels of fraud,” reports the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College…

By far the most common change in voting laws were the passage of voter ID laws in multiple states.

The campaign was coordinated by the American Legislative Exchange Council, which provided GOP legislators with draft legislation based on Indiana’s ID requirement. In five states that passed such laws in the past year – Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin – the measures were sponsored by legislators who are members of ALEC…

In Texas, under “emergency” legislation passed by the GOP-dominated legislature… signed by Gov. Rick Perry (and subsequently blocked by the Obama Administration) a concealed-weapon permit is considered an acceptable ID but a student ID is not. Republicans in Wisconsin, meanwhile, mandated that students can only vote if their IDs include a current address, birth date, signature and two-year expiration date – requirements that no college or university ID in the state currently meets.

The voter ID laws are great vehicles for the GOP, because on the surface they seem like relatively benign, good governance measures. But let’s be clear about what those laws mean. They mean that in many states this year, old ladies who have been voting for years will show up at the voting booth this year and be turned away. And even better for Republicans, studies have shown that people most likely to not possess ID are disproportionately black, Latino and young (groups that, not coincidentally, vote overwhelmingly for Democrats).

Berman again:

roughly half of all black and Hispanic residents in Wisconsin do not have a driver’s license, and the state staffs barely half as many DMVs as Indiana – a quarter of which are open less than one day a month. To make matters worse, Gov. Scott Walker tried to shut down 16 more DMVs – many of them located in Democratic-leaning areas. In one case, Walker planned to close a DMV in Fort Atkinson, a liberal stronghold, while opening a new office 30 minutes away in the conservative district of Watertown.

In Pennsylvania, where a new voter ID law just went into effect, the state department of transportation recently reported that over 750,000 registered voters (or 9%) do not possess photo ID cards issued by the department. While this law does allow other forms of ID such as student ID with expiration dates, military ID, government ID and passports to be presented, there is no doubt that many people will be disenfranchised. If you don’t believe that, just listen to the Pennsylvania House Majority Leader, who was caught on tapeearlier this year bragging about his accomplishments including, “Voter ID, which will allow Mitt Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania – done.”

But surely, cases of people impersonating other people in order to cast ballots for their candidates are widespread. After all, Fox News talks about this so much that they have a “Vote Fraud Unit” dedicated to reporting on these cases.

Well, not exactly: impersonating another person in order to vote would be a very inefficient way to affect an election and a recent study showed only 10 recorded cases of someone impersonating another voter in the last 12 years. This is 1 incident for every 15 million registered voters in the United States. 

I understand the political appeal of those voter ID laws, but we have to look at the consequences as well. Does disenfranchising large sections of the population in order to prevent something that almost never happens make sense? More importantly, it should be difficult for any fair minded person to look at the raft of legislation passed by Republican politicians since 2010 and not see this for what it is: a coordinated Republican attempt to rewrite the rules for their own benefit after a landslide election. 

This is what happens in emerging third world democracies. It shouldn’t be happening in what is supposed to be the beacon of democracy for the world.