A new study from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU puts forth an ominous prediction: five million voters could be affected by the deluge of restrictive voting laws that have swept the country in recent years. The report finds that the voters are from traditionally Democratic demographics and could be kept away from the polling booths in 2012. Importantly, the sheer number of voters who could be impacted is larger than the margin of victory in two of the last three presidential elections.
State governments across the country have enacted an array of new laws that make it harder for likely voters to register. The new rules include often costly voter ID laws; proof of citizenship requirements; and the elimination of early, absentee, and election day registration programs. For many states, the new rules are costly for both residents and state governments.
"Already 19 new laws and two new executive actions are in place and at least 42 bills are still pending," according to the report "Voting Law Changes in 2012."
These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, low-income, and voters of color, as well as on voters with disabilities. Additional findings the report found:
- These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.
- The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 - 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
- Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions.
Wendy R. Weiser, one of the report's co-authors, calls the voting law changes "radical" and "completely unnecessary."
"They especially hurt those who have been historically locked out of our electoral system, like minorities, poor people, and students," Weiser wrote. "Often they seem precisely targeted to exclude certain voters."
All of this despite little evidence of actual voter fraud, and plenty to suggest that the laws will not only cost cash-strapped states millions of dollars.
Colorlines.com's Jamilah King on what's behind the push for stricter voting laws:
Surely it's at least partially an effort to gear up for the 2012 presidential elections. But criticism of the Voter ID bills often falls starkly along party lines. While Republicans say that they're necessary to combat growing fraud, there's little to suggest rampant fraud is actually taking place. Meanwhile, Democrats argue that there's plenty of evidence to suggest that it's the elderly, African American, and Latino voters who are most likely to vote without the types of identification that's being required in the new legislation.
Voting rights advocates put the current debate over Voter ID's on the historical continuum of the kinds of voter intimidation that was instrumental in galvanizing the civil rights movement of the 1960s and passing the Voting Rights Act of 1964.