By Amanda Litvinov
One of the many unknowns going into Election 2012 was to what degree voters’ rights would be compromised. Of particular concern were new laws requiring a photo ID to vote—justified by widely discredited claims of voter fraud—proposed in more than 30 states in 2012. Other states shortened early voting windows and limited voter registration opportunities.
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Educator-activists were among those fighting to preserve opportunities for all eligible voters to cast a ballot.
“As educators, we believe children are the most important thing for this country, and that means our voices must be heard and we must get to the polls,” said Robert Gaines III, a special education paraprofessional from Farmington, Mich. Gaines was deeply committed to helping educate voters in his community, and even drove more than 10 hours to Washington, D.C., to attend a voter engagement training sponsored by NEA and the NAACP this summer.
Although the hard work of a great many organizations, activists like Gaines, and voters themselves defeated many attempts to confuse and intimidate voters in Election 2012, there’s no question that unjustified, restrictive laws caused chaos in states such as Pennsylvania and Florida. And additional laws that restrict voters’ rights are pending or already on the books for future elections.
- Future tense. Legislation adding new restrictions to voting rights has already passed in New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. The laws go into effect in 2013 and 2014.
- On hold. Alabama and Mississippi passed strict photo ID laws that are awaiting clearance by the Department of Justice (as required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act). The DOJ determined that laws passed in Texas and South Carolina violated the Voting Rights Act because they disproportionately affect minority voters, but the states have already filed suits to allow the laws to go into effect.
- Here we go again? Restrictive voter laws were proposed but not passed in Illinois in 2011 and 2012. Will another be introduced in 2013? In Wisconsin, a county judge issued an injunction to suspend the state’s strict voter ID law passed in February 2012. The state will appeal.
- And elsewhere: Robert M. Brandon, co-founder of the nonpartisan Fair Elections Legal Network, said other states on his organization’s watch list include Alaska, Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia, where more restrictive voting laws may be proposed.
Still, there are reasons to be hopeful about the future of voting rights.
In November, Minnesota voters defeated a ballot measure that would have changed to the state constitution to make voting laws much more restrictive. In addition to requiring photo ID, the Voter Restriction Amendment would have eliminated same-day voter registration and absentee and mail-in ballots.
Brandon and FELN expect that lawmakers in some states will take a stand for voters. “There could be some positive legislation, including allowing for Election Day registration and expanding online voter registration in several states where control of the legislature and/or the governor’s office switched,” said Brandon.
FELN, working with partners like NEA, will continue to educate groups most affected by restrictive voting laws, including college students, who often don’t have the required state-issued ID where they attend school.
Campus Vote Project, a campaign of FELN, worked tirelessly in 2012 to provide tools to give students the information to register and vote. “Education is essential in turning out young people to vote,” said Brandon. “Campus Vote Project will continue working with NEA to provide students the information they need so every election we will see record turnout of young people.”
Help us fight for fair voting laws before we’re facing another major election. Learn about the Voter Empowerment Act, and tell your members of Congress to support it!