A wave of Republican-sponsored laws restricting who can and cannot vote may mean that fewer Democrats, especially those who are low-income or minorities, vote in the 2012 presidential election.
Since the beginning of 2011, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia have passed, or have plans to pass, restrictive voting laws. More than 70 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency will come from these states, the Brennan Center reported in March. Republican lawmakers argue that the laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud, but fewer than 100 people have been charged with voter fraud in the past five years, according to the Washington Post.
In 2011, former President Bill Clinton condemned the laws for disenfranchising Democrats, describing them as "the disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time."
"There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the other Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today," he said.
There are several types of voting laws that make it harder for certain people to vote. Photo ID laws, passed in eight states last year, require voters to show a government-issued photo ID to vote or to register to vote. Eleven percent of American citizens do not have a government-issued photo IDs, according to the Brennan Center, and those without IDs are more likely to be minorities or low-income. Restrictions on absentee and early voting, proof of citizenship laws and voter registration obstacles are also types of legislation that could prevent millions of eligible Americans from voting in November.
Some laws have drawn aggressive pushback from the U.S. Department of Justice, which blocked photo ID laws in Texas and South Carolina on the grounds that they discriminate against non-white voters, but they are not the only laws that have been challenged. Here are some of the laws that have stirred up the most anger:
Florida eliminates early voting on Sundays
Tensions run high in Florida, a critical battleground state that passed an election law last year with several contested provisions. One bans a decade-long practice of early voting on Sundays before the election -- a window when as many as 30 percent of black people have previously voted after attending church in a "souls to the polls" movement. Republican lawmakers claim the provision is meant to reduce election fraud, but some black Democrats say the calculation is more sinister.
“It’s my feeling it was done deliberately, a premeditated design, to suppress the vote of African-Americans in this country because it’s playing out all over the nation in every state. It was intentional,” Florida Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) said.
Photo ID firestorm rocks South Carolina
The Justice Department dealt a blow to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley's law requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls, arguing that it discriminated along racial lines. Haley's administration fired back with a lawsuit that is expected to be decided in September.
Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said earlier this month that Republicans hope to tip the outcome of the presidential election by lowering voter turnout by 1 percent in each of nine states that have passed voter ID laws, the West Ashley Patch reports.
"I know nothing has changed yet," he said. "But I just do not trust the judiciary that we're operating under."
A disenfranchised grandmother sues Pennsylvania
Under Pennsylvania's new voter ID law, voters must show a photo ID issued by the state or federal government. The state-issued IDs are free, but getting one requires a birth certificate, which costs $10 in Pennsylvania.
Not everyone is having an easy time navigating the new system. Earlier this month, Viviette Applewhite, 93, filed a lawsuit with the ACLU and NAACP challenging the law. Applewhite, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, does not have a driver's license, and the state cannot find her birth certificate. She is afraid that this year will be the first since 1960 that she will be unable to vote.
Applewhite's dilemma is not uncommon. Some 700,000 Pennsylvanians lack photo ID and half of them are seniors. According to the Brennan Center, 25 percent of voting-age black citizens have no government-issued photo ID, compared to 8 percent of white citizens.
Kansas on the verge of moving up proof of citizenship law to 2012
The Kansas House voted Tuesday to move up the date a proof of citizenship law goes into effect to June 15, 2012, so it will limit who can vote in the presidential election.
HuffPost's John Celock reports:
Rep. Ann Mah (D-Topeka) said the entire idea of proof of citizenship to vote would fail in court due to it being discriminatory against married women who change their names. Mah said that women who change their name need to provide proof of marriage and citizenship and an affidavit regarding the name change.
Rep. Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) took issue with Mah's claims of court challenges. "I get frustrated that everyone who does not like policy says we'll end up in court," he said.
Only 48 percent of voting-age women with access to their birth certificates have a birth certificate with a current legal name, which means that as many as 32 million American women do not have proof of citizenship with their current legal name, according to the Brennan Center.
Wisconsin law continues to disenfranchise voters after it is suspended
Last year, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a voter ID bill into law, calling it a "common sense reform" that would "go a long way to protecting the integrity of elections in Wisconsin." But as Walker's June 5 recall election approaches, he will not benefit from the law because two judges suspended it on the basis that it is unconstitutional.
Still, poll workers reportedly asked some voters to show photo ID during Wisconsin's April 2 primary, and one woman said that she and her 87-year-old mother were turned away at the polls because they lacked current photo IDs -- even though they were registered to vote.
"We were listed on their friggin' poll list and yet we had our names highlighted," the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
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