Electoral reform measures that some say are really suppression efforts in disguise, are popping up across the United States in statewide voter ID laws or Republican-led voter roll purges that some say are targeted against the Democrat-leaning voters.
Reports and experts consistently claim that the voter ID laws and registration regulations as well as voter purges based on Hispanic surnames are going to disproportionately affect youth, seniors, low-income voters, Latinos and African Americans—all voter blocs that consistently vote Democrat. Most of the harshest measures are in states with Republican-led legislatures.
Plenty of theatrics and much misinformation has flowed from Republican and Democratic propaganda machines, but what are the facts to support their claims?
Since 2011, legislation has been passed or other actions taken to change voter registration regulations in 17 states. All except West Virginia, Minnesota, Rhode Island and North Carolina have Republican governors.
VOXXI has been bringing you a summary of the efforts and counter efforts going on in different states in this all important election year, which many experts say is going to see one of the closest presidential races in decades.
Monday of last week, we took a look at measures in Florida and Georgia. Tuesday of last week, we got a briefing on proposals and changes in Mississippi and both North and South Carolina. Earlier yesterday we focused on six states: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Virginia. Late yesterday, we look at Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kansas and today, we end the series with reaction to and expert reviews of these laws.
Based on the number of voter ID laws and registration regulations, voter roll purges and other such “electoral reform” measures have multiplied, one would think there was an epidemic of voting fraud that states are eager to combat.
Recently released data, however, show extremely few cases of fraudulent voting recorded since 2000.
Critics say it is no coincidence that these state bills have been passed in key swing states that happen to have mostly Republican leadership. They have elements that require tedious action, money and wasting time by potential voters, mostly affecting targeted ethnic, racial, socioeconomic and age-specific demographics. The intent is largely to skew the presidential outcome in November toward the Republicans. These efforts represent oppressive and despotic behavior which many politicians who write claim to abhor.
At least five of the new voter ID laws directly follow the model legislation formulated by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC receives 98 percent of its funding from corporations and is firmly attached to conservative dictates. It has also been responsible for anti-immigration legislation passed by various states as well as Florida’s concealed weapon law.
Members of Congress and civil rights advocates have slammed this coordinated plan by Republicans and have rejected a frequent argument made by supporters of voter ID laws: photo ID is required for plenty of everyday activities, why not voting?
“You wanna know something? Getting a video from Blockbuster is not a constitutional right. Getting liquor from the liquor store is not a constitutional right,” said Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wis.).
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) contends that these laws are “an obvious Republican attempt to subvert our vote in 2012 and to hurt the President of the United States’ chance of reelection, which is the entire goal of the Republican House—to defeat Barack Obama even if they take down the United States economy while they do it.”
Most of the laws being contested in these states are simple photo ID requirements to vote which, according to the DOJ and many advocacy groups, are racially discriminatory. According to Justice, “Hispanic voters are 46.5% more likely than non-Hispanic voters to lack an ID.”
Proponents of voter IDs assert that this large discrepancy is diluted when one fully appraises the figures: 6.3 percent of registered Hispanics don’t have a driver’s license, versus 4.3 percent of non-Hispanics. This two percentage point difference allows statistical magicians to claim a “46.5 percent” discrepancy and, thus, distort the rhetoric.
A more accurate way of stating the data is: a non-Hispanic registered voter is only 2 percent more likely than a Hispanic voter to have an ID.
These laws simply require citizens to prove who they are if they want to cast a ballot using photo IDs that most citizens already have. Many states will provide them free of charge. And in states like Texas, where Hispanics make up nearly 40 percent of the population, political leaders argue it would be prudent to protect against rampant voter fraud. Before these laws, ANYONE (regardless of citizenship status or if you already voted) could present to a voting booth and simply vote.
People of color are not negatively affected by these laws.
For documentation, one can cite Georgia’s experience with photo ID requirements. The DOJ pre-cleared Georgia’s law in 2005, during the Bush Administration, declaring that it was not discriminatory (although it’s virtually identical to Texas’s law which Obama’s DOJ is blocking now).
Non-white voters in Georgia have increased dramatically since the law’s implementation in 2004. According to official figures from the Georgia Secretary of State, Hispanic voter turnout increased 140 percent from 2004 to 2008. The turnout of black voters increased 42 percent during the same period. In the 2010 mid-term election, Hispanic voter turnout increased 66.5 percent from 2006, while the turnout of black voters increased 44.7 percent. By contrast, the turnout of white voters increased 8 percent in 2008 and 11.7 percent in 2010.
Despite this encouraging empirical data, a lawsuit was filed by the ACLU and the NAACP claiming that discrimination is demonstrable in Georgia once the laborious task needed to obtain IDs is taken into account.
For example, in a suit lodged by the ACLU and the NAACP against Pennsylvania’s voter ID requirement, the lead plaintiff is Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old who has voted since 1960. She will be barred from voting in the upcoming election because she does not have an acceptable ID and is unable to obtain a birth certificate from the state, which is necessary to obtain an ID.
A Pennsylvania state court judge on Aug. 15 ruled against the ACLU and NAACP, thus allowing the law to go into effect. Appeals of this decision are pending.
For some individuals, such as people of color, the poor, the elderly and college students, these requirements are oppressively restrictive and disenfranchise their voting rights.
It is easy for many people with financial means who drive and work to question why individuals cannot simply obtain an ID. But driving a car and working are not constitutional requirements for satisfying one’s right to vote.
Felony disenfranchisement laws originated in the late 1800s to keep newly freed slaves from voting. The echo of those laws resonates today.
Kentucky, Iowa, Florida and Virginia require an extensive review process, including governor’s approval, to allow ex-felons to reintegrate into society and exercise their right to vote.
Republican Gov. Terry Branstad made Iowa the most difficult state in the nation for ex-felons to vote when he signed Executive Order 70 on his first day in office in November 2010. His order reversed a policy started under Democratic Gov. Tom Vilsack which permitted felons automatically to regain their voting rights upon discharge from state supervision.
Executive Order 70 also goes against nationwide trends making it easier for ex-felons to vote, which started in 1996, according to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The report says that 38 states allow most ex-felons to regain their voting rights automatically once they complete their sentences.
Maine and Vermont never took away voting rights. They allow felons to vote while in prison. Other states make ex-felons wait a certain amount of time before becoming eligible.
Iowa’s policy mandates an array of laborious and trivial criteria that felons must satisfy in order to re-establish their voting rights. These include a 31-question application that asks for information such as the address of the judge.
The review can take up to six months.
Eight thousand felons in Iowa have completed their prison sentences or have been released from community supervision, but fewer than a dozen have submitted the paperwork for reinstatement of their voting rights. Branstad’s office has denied a handful of others because of incomplete forms or unpaid court costs.
“Wow—that seems pretty low,’’ said Rita Bettis, lobbyist for ACLU Iowa, which has posted a how-to guide online to help ex-felons through a process that has confused even some seasoned election officials.
One ex-felon applicant complained: “They make the process just about impossible.” I hired a lawyer to navigate it for me and I still got rejected. Isn’t that amazing?”
Iowa is probably the most difficult state for an ex-felon to vote.
Voter ID in Florida
Florida is a close second. Felony disenfranchisement laws in the Sunshine State may be the biggest success of all the recent Republican efforts to restrict turnout. Nearly one million voters will be disenfranchised and prohibited from voting in Florida. It is probably no coincidence that these targeted individuals tend to vote Democrat.
According to The Sentencing Project, a national non-profit organization engaged in research and advocacy on criminal justice issues, the United States contains 5 percent of the world’s population, but has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners (2.3 million persons jailed). It is estimated that 5.85 million Americans will be unable to vote in this year’s presidential elections because of their criminal history.
African American disenfranchisement rates are very high. In three states—Florida (23 percent), Kentucky (22 percent), and Virginia (20 percent)—more than one in five African Americans are disenfranchised, according to the Sentencing Project.
In the case of Florida, Desmond Meade of the nonprofit Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, notes that if African-American former felons “were able to vote, Florida would no longer be a swing state.”
In the 1970s and 1980s the Supreme Court ruled on the issue of prohibiting ex-felons from voting twice, determining that denying felons the right to vote is an “affirmative sanction” allowable under the 14th Amendment. The court later struck down a provision of the 1901 Alabama Constitution because it reflected “purposeful racial discrimination.”
According to the American Constitution Society (ACS), these rulings allow states to disenfranchise their citizens so long as the laws don’t have a discriminatory intent. ACS notes that, while black men make up 36 percent of the disenfranchised ex-felon population, they are only 6 percent of the general population.
“While today’s felony disenfranchisement laws are racially neutral,” the ACS states, “many are inherited from an underlying legacy of racist voting restrictions.”