The voter ID law passed by Texas lawmakers in May continues its circuit among activists, lawmakers, academics and social commentators as a discriminatory, unjustified and absolutely necessary measure, depending on who's yelling. Words like "voter fraud" on the right and "disenfranchisement" on the left stir up serious emotion with people on both sides. So here we go, heads down and shields up, charging into the next round of this ongoing battle.
Yesterday the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy institute at the New York University School of Law, published a report, Voting Law Changes in 2012, that estimates that state voting law changes could make it more difficult for more than "five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012."
Who are most affected by the laws that complicate the voting process? "Young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities," says the report, which continues, "This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election."
Texas's law, one of several passed in recent years, requires all voters to present photo identification at the polls. It requires the Department of Public Safety to issue a free identification certificate so that, theoretically, money is not a barrier to voting. And it strengthens penalties for people who vote illegally.
A couple weeks back, Joe posted a lengthy letter by a coalition of several voter advocacy non-profits, including the American Civil Liberties Foundation, who asked the Attorney General and Department of Justice to object to the new Texas law requiring photo ID to vote. In other words, Feds, meet Rick Perry, our governor. (Head's up: He doesn't like you much.)
"[Texas] has failed completely to proffer any evidence that [the Voter ID law] was enacted for a non-discriminatory purpose, and the evidence demonstrates otherwise," the letter states. "Voters of color will suffer negatively and disproportionately if SB14 [Voter ID] is allowed to proceed to implementation."
The feds have since responded with a letter of their own. The DOJ does not object to the increases in penalties for illegal voting in Texas but says it needs more information to determine whether the law makes it more difficult for minorities to vote. It requests that the coalition of activist groups who objected submit more information about the states' education programs and materials that will be used in the law's implementation, including a detailed description of the "locations and dates when an individual may obtain a free election identification certificate." Once the additional information reaches the Department of Justice, a response will be issued within another 60 days. And the show will go on.
As this Rolling Stone article details, this issue is not individual to Texas, even though it's so us.
All told, a dozen states have approved new obstacles to voting. Kansas and Alabama now require would-be voters to provide proof of citizenship before registering. Florida and Texas made it harder for groups like the League of Women Voters to register new voters. Maine repealed Election Day voter registration, which had been on the books since 1973. Five states -- Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia -- cut short their early voting periods. Florida and Iowa barred all ex-felons from the polls, disenfranchising thousands of previously eligible voters. And six states controlled by Republican governors and legislatures -- Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin -- will require voters to produce a government-issued ID before casting ballots. More than 10 percent of U.S. citizens lack such identification, and the numbers are even higher among constituencies that traditionally lean Democratic -- including 18 percent of young voters and 25 percent of African-Americans.
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The alleged driving force behind the legislation is the battle against voter fraud, an evil that should be beaten down, sure. If it exists at all. There is little evidence to support that it does in any measurable amount, at least in the form that these laws would protect against: unregistered or fraudulently voters casting ballots in person at the polls. (In other words: Not what the Medrano family is accused of).
The Brennan Center previously published another paper, The Truth About Voter Fraud, that shows voter fraud to be blown out of proportion by politicians who sound fantastically electable championing it as a worthy cause and media outlets that dine out on the splashy narrative of Stolen Elections: "Perhaps because these stories are dramatic, voter fraud makes a popular scapegoat."
"If we can move beyond the fixation on voter fraud," the paper goes on, "we will be able to focus on the real changes our elections need, from universal registration all the way down to sufficient parking at the poll site."
But that wouldn't be very sexy, would it?