Laws to restrict or curtail voting spread like wild fire across the country in 2011 with 19 new state laws now in effect.
These laws run the gamut from requiring a photo identification to shortening or eliminating early voting. But no matter the form they take, the goal and the impact is the same: erecting barriers that will make it harder for young people, seniors, lower- income voters, and voters of color to cast a ballot in the 2012 election—with estimates that more than 5 million people could be negatively impacted by the laws.
Nine states now will require a government issued photo ID to vote in 2012—Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. It could have been worse—as 34 states introduced legislation that would require voters to show photo identification.
Some perspective is helpful here: before the 2011 legislative session, only Georgia and Indiana had ever imposed strict photo ID requirements. Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee went even further by signing laws that make registering to vote particularly onerous by requiring individuals to present proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate. Five states: Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia—enacted bills reducing early voting. Two states—Florida and Iowa—reversed their rules that had allowed citizens with past felony convictions to restore their right to vote.
There’s no reason to think the assault will wane as state legislatures head back into session in 2012. Where's the good news? First, citizens are fighting back: in November 2011, voters in Maine loudly rebuked their legislature for attempting to repeal Maine’s 40-year-old Election Day Registration law, voting 60-40 to restore EDR. In Ohio, advocates collected over 300,000 signatures to suspend the legislature’s cutbacks on early voting and place the question on the ballot for 2012. Second, Attorney General Eric Holder recently gave some hope in a recent speech that the Department of Justice will use its authority under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to block some of these vote suppression laws: which it followed through with in South Carolina on December 23rd.