New State Voting Laws: Barriers to the Ballot?

New State Voting Laws: Barriers to the Ballot?

September 8, 2011
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The assault on the right to vote that has taken place in 2011 is historic in terms of its geographic scope and intensity. The state laws that have been passed to curtail early voting, make voter registration more difficult, and require voters to present government-issued photo identification and/or prove citizenship to register to vote are difficult to interpret as anything but blatant vote suppression. Absent intervention by the U.S. Department of Justice in those states subject to pre-clearance under the Voting Rights Act, stringent voter identification requirements will be in place for the 2012 federal elections in Indiana, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Alabama and Kansas. With the exception of Indiana and Georgia, these regressive statutes were all enacted within the last six months. A restrictive voter ID initiative will also be on the ballot this year in Mississippi, possibly followed next year by ballot initiatives in Minnesota and Missouri.

Each of the voter ID laws would require every voter to present government-issued photo identification in order to vote, with some variation. And while the courts have for the moment upheld the ID laws enacted in Indiana and Georgia, some of the other new restrictions go beyond those that have withstood judicial scrutiny. Wisconsin, for example, will not accept a student ID, a form of identification accepted by both Indiana and Georgia. Only identification issued by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, a military ID, a passport, naturalization papers or ID from a federally- recognized tribal nation will be accepted. Texas likewise elected to exclude student identification from the list of acceptable IDs. Only a driver's license, personal ID card issued by the state, military ID, passport or concealed handgun permit will suffice. Similar laws were proposed and are likely to come up again in dozens of more states.