WASHINGTON — Democrats said Thursday they are planning a major effort to protect voting rights in the 2012 election after several states passed voter identification laws and restrictions on early voting and same day registration.
Concerned over what they call voter suppression efforts in states, party officials said they were organizing on a number of fronts to overturn some of the measures, educate voters on the types of documents necessary to vote and pursue lawsuits if necessary.
"We have a history of challenging these matters in court if need be. We'll be more than prepared to continue that into the future," said Will Crossley, the Democratic National Committee's counsel and director of voter protection.
Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin have passed laws this year that allow voters without the required photo ID to cast provisional ballots, but the voters must return to a specific location with that ID within a certain time limit for their ballots to count. Efforts to restrict early voting have been approved in Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin.
Party officials contend blacks, Hispanics, senior citizens and the poor are less likely to have required photo IDs and worry that the laws could lead to some voters being disenfranchised if they fail to carry an ID with them. They said early voting among black voters was key to Barack Obama's success in the 2008 election in North Carolina and Florida and could complicate efforts there next year.
"We're aggressively engaged in making sure that we help voters move these obstacles and barriers that are being put in their way that are essentially designed to rig an election when Republicans can't win these elections on the merits," said Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the DNC head.
Republicans said the laws were designed to deal with mounting administrative costs and to eliminate voter fraud, citing the activities of ACORN, a now defunct political advocacy group. Congress cut off ACORN's federal money in 2010 following allegations the group engaged in voter registration fraud and embezzlement.
"Knowing President Obama is facing a steep climb to re-election, Democrats are resorting to scare tactics rather than addressing voter fraud cases," said Kirsten Kukowski, a Republican National Committee spokeswoman.
Democratic officials point to success in Maine, where voters repealed a new state law that required voters to register at least two days before an election, restoring Election Day voter registration. In Ohio, party activists say they have gathered enough signatures to prevent a law reducing the number of days of early voting from taking effect until residents can vote in a referendum next year.