I didn’t think there could be a political issue that could rile me as much as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, but I think I may just have found it.
I’ve watched with horror as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has pushed voter photo ID laws nationwide in mainly Republican-controlled state legislatures. How can we as a country watch as this wholly manufactured crisis to erect barriers to voting among Democratic-leaning demographic groups marches through state-by-state?
My native state of Wisconsin, which had one of the richest histories of same-day voting registration, fell prey to this legislation and now it’s being introduced by the Republican controlled state legislature in Minnesota, where I currently reside. This time, they are pushing a constitutional amendment because Republican legislators know Democratic Governor Mark Dayton would veto any such legislation. Tell me again, when did we vote in legislators to amend a state constitution on a regular basis? I thought they were elected to legislate.
A Bit of Background
How and why has this legislative push happened? Consider this: The 2008 electorate that put President Barack Obama in the White House was more than just the highest turnout in more than 60 years. It represented the emergence of a new Democratic coalition, one comprised primarily of racial and ethnic minorities, low-income Americans, liberals, young voters and women. At the time, forecasts of demographic change and shifting views on social issues led to speculation that Republicans were on the verge of becoming a permanent minority party.
Shortly after President Obama’s election, ALEC began to prioritize efforts to chip away at the influence of that coalition. It’s not a big leap to say that these Republican-controlled legislative initiatives are motivated not to protect electoral integrity, but rather to limit the voting power of populations that tend to vote Democratic. Studies show that approximately 11 percent of Americans – about 21 million people – lack a current government photo ID, disproportionately racial minorities, senior citizens, young voters, the working poor and people with disabilities.
As we head into another historic election cycle, at least 33 states as of November 2011 have introduced legislation to require voter IDs and 14 states have photo ID requirements in place. This doesn’t even account for the voter suppression laws that were introduced to restrict hours of early voting and voting registration.
The evidence to support the rhetoric of “voter fraud” is scant – and has been for years. You remember the firings of U.S. attorneys during George Bush’s administration? The ones who refused to prosecute the cases of voter fraud because of weak evidence? A comprehensive five-year investigation by the Bush Justice Department announced in 2007 found just 86 instances of improper voting. Simply put: Those who seek voter photo ID laws buy into the myth of “voter fraud.”
The Advancement Project, a policy, communications and legal action group committed to racial justice, has sounded the alarm on this recent forceful momentum of voter suppression bills. This group and its recent report provide some of the best analysis of the current situation and present some of the most logical and reason-based arguments against voter ID legislation. They point to it as the largest legislative effort to scale back ballot access since the post-Reconstruction era, reversing a century-long trend of opening the ballot to everyone.
In the conclusion of The Advancement Project’s report: What’s Wrong With This Picture: New Photo ID Proposals Part of a National Push to Turn Back the Clock on Voting Rights they state:
Elections cannot be free and fair unless they are open to every eligible voter. Photo ID requirements erode the integrity of elections by systematically excluding large groups of eligible voters and place them in second-class status. This is part of a larger movement to erect significant barriers for voters of color, reversing a century-long trend. If states are truly concerned about protecting the integrity of the elections process, they should start by ensuring that all eligible voters have access to the vote, not just those with a state-issued photo ID.
Another excellent source of information is the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s School of Law, which also issued a report on the voting rights changes for 2012 and states:
These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities. This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election. Already 19 new laws and two new executive actions are in place. At least 42 bills are still pending, and at least 69 more were introduced but failed. Already, it is clear that:
- These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.
- The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 185 electoral votes in 2012 – more than two thirds of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
- Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, six have either cut back on voting rights already or are currently considering new restrictions.
I urge everyone to read these reports and to stay informed and up-to-date about what your state is doing on this issue, especially if you have a Republican controlled legislature.