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An estimated 6 million people did not vote in 2008 because they missed a registration deadline or they did not know how to register. Put into context, that number is bigger than the population of all but 18 states.
So tomorrow’s National Voter Registration Day, a nonpartisan effort sponsored by hundreds of organizations, ranging from the National Education Association, Rock the Vote, and the League of Women Voters to the Fair Elections Legal Network and the National Association of Secretaries of States, aims to shrink that number and ensure every person who is eligible to vote is registered.
“National Voter Registration Day is about democracy. It’s about doing something, big or small, to help your community and participate in the democracy that allows us to use our voice. We’re helping people find their voice — not telling them what to say. We’re trying to cut through the partisan noise to remind people that voting is a part of being a patriotic citizen,” explains the National Voter Registration Day web site. Organizers go to great pains to point out that the day is about “patriotism, no partisanship.”
Getting people registered has taken on added significance in he last 6-8 years as GOP-controlled state legislatures and governors passed a raft of restrictive voter laws that disproportionately affect the poor, African Americans, Latinos, students and the elderly.
Wisconsin is the state generating the most headlines recently. It’s on-again, off-again, on-again voter ID law, enacted by Gov. Scot Walker, “will cause irreparable harm to the 300,000 plus voters who lack ID,” said John Ulin, a lawyer who represents plaintiffs in the case. The plaintiffs filed an emergency petition September 16 asking the full 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals to review an earlier ruling. The reinstated voter ID requirements come less than two months before Election Day and after the state has mailed 11,000 absentee ballots.
The ACLU, representing the Wisconsin plaintiffs, estimates “the state would have to process and issue 6,000 photo IDs every day between now and November 4 in order to serve all” the affected residents.
Wisconsin, using the rationale from other states, argues the law is necessary to prevent voter fraud. Nevertheless, the Wisconsin state attorney was unable to submit any evidence of voter fraud. Additionally, the two most comprehensive national studies of voter fraud to date, one by the Justice Department under President George W. Bush and the other by the U.S. General Accountability Office, found voter fraud to be a rare phenomenon.
In 2010, Walker won by 124,638 votes, and he appears to be in an even closer race this year.