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Brennan Center: Millions Of Voters Impacted By New Photo I.D., Citizenship And Registration Laws

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WASHINGTON -- According to a new report, over five million voters could be denied the right to vote under new laws adopted in a dozen states.

The study released Sunday night by the Brennan Center for Justice in New York said that new laws regarding photo identification requirements for voting, eliminating same day voter registration in several states, requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote, changing requirements for voter registration drives, reducing early voting days and restoring the right to vote for convicted felons will make voting harder for the five million people in the 2012 election.

The Brennan Center wrote that there has been a partisan divide in terms of the new laws, noting that the laws had mainly been generated from Republican-controlled state legislatures and signed by Republican governors. The exceptions are laws passed by Democratic-controlled legislatures in Rhode Island and West Virginia, signed by an independent governor in Rhode Island and West Virginia’s Democratic acting governor.

The report also projects that the new laws will have an impact on minority voters. According to the Brennan Center, African-Americans and Hispanics are more likely to register to vote during voter registration drives in Florida, and new photo I.D. requirements in Texas do not include forms of identification heavily used by minorities. The report points to new laws requiring photo identification to vote in Alabama, Kansas, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin that would limit voting to up to 3.2 million citizens who do not have government-issued photo I.D. The report did not include Rhode Island’s new photo identification law, which allows for non-governmental photo I.D.s to be used for voting, saying that the state’s law does not have the same requirements as measures elsewhere. Prior to 2011, only Indiana and Georgia had photo I.D. laws on the books.

All of the states allow for driver’s licenses, government-issued photo I.D. cards, passports and military I.D.s to vote. Alabama, Kansas and Rhode Island laws will all allow for student I.D. cards from state universities to vote. Kansas, Texas, Rhode Island, Alabama and Tennessee all allow concealed handgun licenses to vote.

The Brennan Center wrote that the student I.D. prohibition and use of a concealed gun carry license in Texas would negatively impact African-American voter registration in the state as African-Americans are less likely to have a conceal carry license there, while they do make a larger population at state universities.

Several other states are looking at various photo identification requirements, with Mississippi holding a referendum in November regarding a proposal and Missouri slated to vote on a state constitutional amendment in 2012.

The report also cites new laws in Alabama and Kansas that require new voters to present proof of U.S. citizenship during the voting process. The Brennan Center also mentioned that the new Tennessee law says that new voters who have been identified in a database as potential non-citizens will have to submit proof of citizenship, a distinct difference from the Alabama and Kansas laws.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) had made the proof of citizenship and photo I.D. proposals key parts of his platform during his 2010 campaign. In May, he told the Wichita Eagle that while he was pleased the two proposals had passed, he wanted to see the state’s election laws made stricter by giving his office power to prosecute voter fraud. Kobach’s opponents argued the laws will suppress voter participation in Kansas.

The Brennan Center cited new laws regarding voter registration drives in Florida and Kansas as increasing the difficulty of registering to vote. The Florida law, signed in May by Gov. Rick Scott (R), says that third party groups conducting voter registration drives have to turn in all forms within 48 hours of completion, and must note the date and time of completion on the forms, along with a tracking code for the organization. The law also requires that monthly reports on voter registration drives be submitted to state election officials.

The Texas law, signed by Gov. Rick Perry (R), requires training of those who wish to register voters and prohibits performance-based compensation for those registering new voters in the state.

The Brennan Center also pointed toward new laws in Maine to eliminate registration on election day, along with Ohio’s new law eliminating voter registration during the state’s week-long early voting period. The laws come at the same time that Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia have adopted laws reducing local early voting periods as well.

The Ohio bill, signed in July by Gov. John Kasich (R), also includes provisions blocking county election officials from mailing absentee ballot applications to all voters and prepaying postage on absentee ballots, both common practice in Democratic Franklin and Cuyahoga counties. The Ohio law has received vocal opposition from Democratic groups, with a petition coming in last week to force a 2012 referendum to overturn the law.

Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald (D) blocked the prepaying postage of absentee ballots in conjunction with the county council. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported in August that Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) had agreed to accept Cuyahoga County ballots with prepaid postage.

The report’s authors see the debate continuing.

"The book isn’t closed for 2012. There is a battle going on for the right to vote," co-author Wendy Weiser said. "We are seeing push back in a variety of states and voter-led efforts in a variety of states. We do anticipate that even though there might be changes, this will have a significantly negative impact on voters in 2012."Watch Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach introduce the election law bill in January:

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