The assault on the right to vote witnessed in 2011 is historic in terms of its geographic scope and intensity. Legislation enacted in states across the country to require government-issued photo identification and/or prove citizenship to register to vote, make voter registration more difficult, and curtail early voting is nothing short of blatant vote suppression, the likes of which has not been seen in generations. Absent denial of preclearance by the US Department of Justice in three states, stringent voter identification requirements will restrict voter participation in the upcoming presidential election in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, South Carolina, and Wisconsin, The list may yet expand as dozens of other states revisit strict voter ID legislation introduced this year in the 2012 legislative sessions. Voter identification initiatives may also be put on the ballot in Minnesota and Missouri.

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These laws require that every voter present government-issued photo identification in order to cast a ballot.  And while courts have upheld the restrictions enacted in Georgia and Indiana, other states have now enacted photo ID provisions that exceed those that survived judicial scrutiny.  Voters in Georgia must show a driver’s license, which need not be current, a photo ID from any entity of the US or state governments, a passport, a military ID, or tribal identification.  Acceptable proof of identity includes student identification from state institutions of higher learning. Indiana requires voters to present a photo ID issued by the federal or state government, including student ID from a state school.

But Wisconsin will only accept identification issued by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, a military ID, passport, naturalization papers or tribal identification.  Student identification is effectively disallowed. And Texas only allows a driver's license, personal ID card issued by the state, military ID, passport or concealed handgun permit. Student identification cards were explicitly rejected by Texas lawmakers.

The vote suppressive impact of these measures is well documented. Indeed, the research demonstrating that students, African Americans, Latinos, young people, low-income Americans, the elderly and persons with disabilities are more likely to be blocked from voting as a result of such requirements has only been building over the last several years.  A disproportionate number of these Americans do not have the type of ID these laws require. For example, 18 percent of Americans over the age of 65, one- quarter of African-Americans, and 15 percent of low-income voters do not have a photo ID. Many young voters do not have a driver’s license, the most commonly accepted form of photo ID.

According to scholars, white voters are approximately 10 percent more likely to have driver’s licenses than non-whites.  Latinos, Asian Americans, African Americans, and naturalized citizens are statistically less likely to have access to five out of six other basic types of acceptable voter identification, as compared to whites and the native born. Asians and Blacks are over 20 percent less likely to have two forms of identification, as compared to whites, while Latinos are 13 percent less likely. A recent report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund shows that voter ID bills would lower Latino voter turnout by as much as 10 percent.

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