Partisan voter laws set stage for election nightmare
by Félix Pérez/photo courtesy of Fair Elect
ions Legal Network
Who could be against requiring people to show government-issued IDs to vote? Or cutting back on the number of early voting days to save money? Or purging noncitizens from voter rolls to prevent voter fraud?
The right to vote is the most fundamental in our democracy, but ongoing and widespread efforts in GOP-controlled states could prevent or pose significant challenges for hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people — mostly inner-city residents, students, African Americans, Latinos and the elderly — from exercising their right this election.
The latest warning: Nearly half a million eligible voters in 10 states (Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin) with restrictive voter identification laws do not have access to transportation and live at least 10 miles from the nearest state ID-issuing office open more than two days a week, according to a new study.
The Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal, but new voter ID laws are preventing eligible Americans from participating in our democracy, said Keesha Gaskins, senior counsel of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and co-author of The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification.
Overall, more than 10 million eligible voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest state office that issues IDs. More than 1 in 10 voting-age citizens do not have a current, government-issued photo ID, while 25 percent of African Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics, and 18 percent of Americans over age 65 do not have such ID.
The Brennan study states: “Even if a registered voter can travel to an ID office, the nearest location may not keep standard business hours. Many ID offices have reduced hours: They are open less than five days per week or fewer than eight hours per day…Citizens may have to take time off from work if the ID-issuing office does not have Saturday or late night hours.”
In Pennsylvania, testimony started yesterday in a lawsuit contesting the constitutionality of that state’s GOP-passed voter ID law. Advocates call the law a rational step to prevent voting fraud. Plaintiffs, including a woman who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King in 1960, contend the law will make it more difficult for a large number of people to vote and that the stated objective of preventing fraud is a disguised attempt to influence election outcomes.
In a surprise — and telling — development, state officials conceded before the trial began that they have no evidence of voter fraud.
According to the stipulation, the state “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere,” nor will it “offer argument or evidence that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law.”
Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, a Republican, validated what many see as the partisan intent of the law when, recently listing accomplishments made by his party in the state legislature, he said: “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”
PA House Majority Leader Mike Turzai says voter ID law will help Mitt Romney win state
A news story published yesterday estimates that at least 1.6 million registered Pennsylvania voters do not have the required photo identification.
Last week in Wisconsin, which like Pennsylvania is expected to have a closely contested presidential race, Glenn Rothman, the number-two state Republican senator, was asked if that state’s voter ID law (blocked but under appeal) would help Romney’s campaign. “Yes. I think we believe that insofar as there are inappropriate things going on, people who vote inappropriately are more likely to vote Democrat. . . I think if people cheat, we believe the people who cheat would be more likely to vote against us.”
By one estimate, some 300,000 Wisconsinites lack a government-issued photo ID.
In Ohio, a lawsuit was filed last week seeking to restore in-person voting the last three days before Election Day.
State Republican elected officials, who control the Ohio Legislature and voted this year to eliminate the in-person, early voting, maintain the change brings about uniformity among all counties, even though they excluded military and overseas voters from the restriction.
Norman Robbins, research director of Northeast Ohio Voter Advocates, told EdVotes that an estimated 105,000 people cast their votes in person in the last three days before the 2008 election. Fifty-nine percent of the voters who used the option in Cuyahoga, Ohio’s largest county, were African American.
“Ohio, as you well know, is a very central state that has close margins of victory,” said Robbins. “We’re talking about numbers of votes that are clearly going to influence a close race.”
Florida is another state that is no stranger to voting rights controversy. There, civil and voting rights organizations filed a lawsuit against a state directive that purges voters from the rolls. The purge, maintain plaintiffs, relies on a faulty data-matching program with a high error rate.
Charlie Crist, Republican governor of Florida from 2007 to 2011, is among those speaking out against his state’s partisan voter law changes.
I’m concerned that zealots overreacting to contrived threats of voter fraud by significantly narrowing the voting pool are doing so with brazen disrespect and disregard for our greatest traditions, wrote Crist.
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