by Félix Pérez/image courtesy of Dean Beeler
When Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a law last month that prohibits early voting on weekends and limits absentee voting, he and the bill’s sponsors said it will promote uniform voting hours across the state. But others countered that the law targets certain groups of voters, will result in longer lines in urban areas, and is part of national tide of restrictive voting law and rule changes driven by organizations such as the secretive group ALEC and extreme politicians.
Take Action ›
Don’t miss out on the kind of education and political news you can only get with EdVotes. Click here ›
The sweeping restrictions have picked up pace in the past year, with some observers noting that they are designed to tilt the playing field in the 2014 elections and the next presidential race. Since the beginning of 2013, nine states have made it more difficult to vote.
While voter ID requirements are the most common method, the measures vary. They range from prohibiting voters in Florida’s largest county, Dade, from using polling station restrooms no matter how long the wait to vote (more than 200,000 Floridians did not vote in 2012 because of long lines), to allowing election observers in Wisconsin to stand as close as three feet from voters at the table where they check in or register to vote, and eliminating Sunday voting in Ohio, a day when many black churches organize “Souls to the Polls” events in which worshippers went as a group to vote after Sunday services.
Politicians have also restricted access to the polls through laws that eliminate Election Day registration, make it harder for third-party groups to register voters, and restrict the types of identification a voter can use to vote. Those most affected by the restrictions are students, minorities and the urban poor, groups that do not historically vote Republican.
The partisan tenor of the voter restriction movement has become increasingly evident. In Wisconsin, Republican state Senator Dale Schultz said the Republican party was “fiddling with mechanics rather than ideas,” adding, “Making it more difficult for people to vote is not a good sign for a party that wants to attract more people.”
Perhaps the most restrictive voting laws in the nation have been implemented in North Carolina. Politicians there passed a far-reaching law that eliminated same-day voter registration and a program to preregister high school students to vote. It cut early voting to 10 days from 17, and imposed a photo identification requirement that excluded student and state worker IDs, among other things.
At a hearing last month with the National Commission on Voting Rights, the Rev. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, testified:
The General Assembly had before it evidence that African-Americans used early voting, same-day voter registration and out-of-precinct voting at higher rates than white voters. And yet these lawmakers eliminated or reduced those ballot access opportunities anyways. But this law hurts all people ̶ black, white, Latino, students, the elderly, Democrats, Republicans, men, women, urban, rural.
No group has been as active in limiting the types of identification a voter can use at the ballot box as ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. An organization through which politicians and corporate lobbyists vote on bills behind closed doors, ALEC approved model legislation in 2009 that, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, would:
Disenfranchise many low-income, minority, elderly, and student voters, many of whom do not have driver’s licenses. While the bill provides for free IDs, in many states the offices that would provide IDs are not located near the communities that would have the greatest needs and/or keep irregular hours. Taking the time to get an ID would be burdensome and many individuals who might otherwise vote would not take the time or be aware of the need to get an ID in advance of the election date.”
Critics of the voting restrictions taking hold across the country cite the absence of voter fraud evidence. In fact, the most comprehensive investigation to date, by the U.S. Justice Department under President George W. Bush, “turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.”