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Voter Suppression Bills Sweep the Country
A wave of voter suppression legislation is emerging from newly elected GOP governors and Republican legislators that would make it much more difficult for traditional Democratic constituencies to vote -- just in time for the 2012 election. About a dozen states are are actively considering legislation that would make voting much more difficult for college students, minorities, the elderly and the disabled. In some states, like Ohio, it is estimated that close to one million people would be affected by these changes.
An editorial in the New York Times linked this wave of voter suppression to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). On ALEC's website, there is a "Voter ID Act" link that is only accessible to members. But Campus Progress obtained a copy of the ALEC Voter ID Model Legislation that provides a roadmap to this coordinated assault on voter rights. Most of the bills being debated require a specific list of state-issued IDs to vote, like a birth certificate, or in Texas, a handgun license. Some end "same day" voter registration often used by students. In others, college student IDs are often not acceptable or other hurdles are created. College students were a key demographic in President Obama's successful 2008 campaign.
Many of the states seeking to enforce these new voter ID bills have newly-elected Republican governors and legislators, including Florida, Ohio, Maine and Wisconsin. This attack on the right to vote comes on top of attacks on public sector unions in these states that makes it harder for unions to bargain, collect union dues and organize political activities.
In Wisconsin, the law would would require a photo ID for the first time in Wisconsin history and only a very narrow range of ID's would qualify. Voters would have to show a Wisconsin driver's licenses, state-issued ID cards, military IDs, passports, naturalization certificates, IDs issued by a Native American tribe based in Wisconsin or certain student IDs. Students not living in dorms would have to show fee payment receipts. Common Cause Wisconsin characterizes the Wisconsin measure as "the most restrictive, blatantly partisan and ill-conceived voter identification legislation in the nation."
While Governor Scott Walker has pushed forward an anti-union agenda with gusto and justified the push by repeating that "Wisconsin is broke," money is apparently not a concern when it comes to voter suppression. AB-7 is expected to cost the state some $5.7 million. That includes $2.2 million for the Government Accountability Board, almost $2 million for the Transportation Department (to cover employee expenses and the cost of free IDs) and more than $1.6 million if universities chose to remake student IDs.
Wisconsin's Voter ID bill is up for debate in the state Assembly this week and is expected to pass. The Isthmus reports that there were some modest changes to the bill in committee: "Most significantly, the Assembly version would include university-issued student identification cards as an acceptable form of ID. But there's a catch: the student IDs must include a current address, birth date, signature and expiration date -- requirements no college or university in Wisconsin currently meets."
House Bill 159 was passed on March 23, 2011 by the Republican-led Assembly and is now awaiting a Senate vote. HB 159 would require all voters to show a government-issued photo ID to cast a ballot in person. Five forms of photo identification make the bill's list: an Ohio driver's license, state ID card, military ID, U.S. passport or a new photo ID being issued by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles to citizens who qualify. College IDs would be unacceptable.
Those who oppose the bill say close to 1 million voters in Ohio will be disenfranchised. Rock The Vote, a campaign protesting the changes, says: "Under this bill, more than 600,000 students in Ohio would be restricted from using their student IDs to vote and over 40,000 out-of-state students who are legally registered Ohio voters would be out-of-luck. An estimated 25 percent of African Americans and 18 percent of seniors wouldn't have the right kind of photo ID under HB 159."
The Republican General Assembly in North Carolina wants to pass a proposal that would require a state-issued ID at the time of voting, eliminate same day registration at early voting sites and disallow 16 and 17 year olds to pre-register.
Duke University's Student Free Press reports that Democrats in the Assembly say the changes would disenfranchise people who traditionally vote Democratic like African Americans, college students and the elderly. "State Sen. Martin Nesbitt, D-N.C., argued that these groups often do not have state-issued photo IDs, adding that the requirement serves as a partisan roadblock to keep these demographics from voting. 'It is blatant voter intimidation—there is absolutely no problem with voter fraud. It's a political bill,' Nesbitt said. "It's fine to play politics. It's not fine to disenfranchise people."
Citing problems with voter fraud as a reason to end election day registration and require people to present a photo ID prior to voting, Maine legislators are trying to pass two bills that would disenfranchise 11 percent of the state. Maine has one of the highest voter turnout rates in the country. Apparently, Maine Republicans think this is bad for democracy.
The Sun Journal reported that in early March, "A legislative panel [Joint Finance Committee] voted 6-6 along party lines to recommend LD 199 to the Legislature ... Same-day registration could soon come to an end under a bill [LD 203] proposed by Rep. Gary Knight (R-Livermore Falls). His bill, which has yet to be heard by the committee, would halt voter registration seven days before an election."
LD 199 and LD 203 would cost the state "millions of dollars as well." Neither bill has been voted on yet in the Senate or Assembly.
"Florida is on the verge of passing a law that will make it harder for groups like Rock the Vote and our volunteers to register voters, harder for you to cast your ballot, and, ultimately, harder to have your ballot counted," states the Rock the Vote website. Bill HB 1355 would disallow address changes at the polls, end volunteer-run voter registration drives, limit early voting periods, as well as greatly increase the number of provisional ballots used.
Florida's League of Women Voters (LWV) said the bill "when taken as a whole, unduly burdens Supervisors of Elections and third-party voter registration groups and assumes that voters are guilty until proven innocent."
The New York Times reported that the bill "would tighten the rules on third-party voter registration and limit the number of days early voting can take place, an effort that Democrats portrayed as blatant voter suppression" The Florida Senate passed the bill last week, 25-13. It will most likely pass in the Assembly.
In Texas, SB 14 is awaiting the governor's signature to become law. The bill amends the Texas Election Code to "require a voter to present an acceptable form of photo identification in order to cast a ballot. Acceptable identification includes a drivers license or personal identification card issued by the Department of Public Safety, a U.S. military card, a U.S. citizenship document with photograph, a U.S. passport, or a state-issued concealed handgun license. Exceptions to these requirements are made for those 70 years of age or older and who have a disability rating of 50 percent or greater."
Rock the Vote has been tracking these bills closely. Visit Rock the Vote for more information.