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How Voter Suppression Endangers our Democratic Process

Despite virtually no evidence of voter fraud, states all across America continue to enact voter “reform” legislation. Since 2011, 17 states have passed voter reform measures.   

Not surprisingly, 15 of these states are either solid red/Republican or toss-ups. Alarmingly, 9 of the 11 states that formed the Confederate States of America have either passed or have pending voter reform laws. These states are Florida, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. The remaining two, Louisiana and Arkansas do not have any pending legislation. 8 of the 11 states that have the highest percentage of African-Americans by state population have passed or have pending voter suppression laws (MS, GA, SC, AL, NC, VI, TN, FL). 

Just for good measure, Texas and Florida, two states that have passed voter reform laws, have the second and sixth highest percentage of Hispanic Americans by population. This is no coincidence. President Obama and Democrats receive 87%-95% of the Black vote and 55%-65% of the Hispanic vote. You may not think voting is important, but the people seeking to control or at least make it harder sure do.

Voter reform measures include:

• Requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote.

• Proof of citizenship to register.

• Cutting back on early voting.

• Eliminating Election Day registration.

• New restrictions on voter registration drives.

• Additional barriers to voting for people with criminal convictions

While there is general disagreement as to the intent of these laws, there is no doubt that the impact will reduce the amount of voters in the 2012 election. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at the New York University School of Law, the impact will fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities.  

Voting is the heart of democracy. Over the past century, our nation expanded the right to vote and knocked down myriad barriers to full electoral participation. Yet voter apathy is widespread and growing. Daniel Stevens Roberts wrote in a University of Tennessee honors thesis paper that in every presidential election, since at least 1964 through 2008, more people voted in each successive election than did in the previous one. However 40% of Americans do not vote.  

With voter turnout so poor, it seems counter intuitive for state legislatures to enact measures that further depress voting rolls. In key battleground states all over the country, state legislatures have enacted laws that will suppress voter turnout.

In Ohio, first, early voting hours were extended only in Republican counties. Then under public pressure, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted made early voting hours uniform, but limited them to weekdays only. The state officials eliminated weekend voting hours a convenience for working people and effectively preventing traditional Sunday voting by African American churchgoers. When two members of a local election board submitted motions to continue weekend voting, the secretary of state suspended and moved to fire the board members.

Florida has passed multiple measures that will reduce voter turnout. Florida passed a measure that reduces early voting from a maximum of 14 days to eight. Florida also passed a voter registration law requiring voter-registration groups to turn in forms within 48 hours or risk fines, and left volunteers subject to possible felony charges if ineligible voters were unknowingly registered. 

The measure has left organizations like the League of Woman Voters and Rock the Vote to suspend voter registration efforts in the state. According to University of Florida political scientist Daniel Smith, 81,000 fewer new voters were added to the registration rolls compared with the same period four years earlier.

In Wisconsin, the state Supreme Court found the voter ID laws to be unconstitutional. Virginia is one of 9 formerly Confederate states to submit voter reform measures. The measure has sparked accusations of Jim Crow like efforts to reduce voter turnout. In Texas, where voter ID also faces a legal challenge, the state Republican Party’s platform calls for repeal of the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965. The state also passed voter registration changes law that limited the ability of outside groups to register new voters.

Indiana and Indianapolis offer their own vote-discouraging practices. Indiana voting hours end at 6 p.m., one of the earliest election-day cutoffs in the nation. Satellite voting centers in Marion County have been closed and 160 precincts polling places have been moved. Many of the voting locations are difficult to reach on foot or bus. Satellite voting is the practice of opening up satellite voting locations across the county in the several days preceding an election for in-person early voting. Satellite voting locations encourages voter turnout by providing a location for people with transportation or job problems that make it hard for them to vote at traditional locations. A motion to re-open the centers would have passed, except one Republican voted against the measure.  Indiana law requires a unanimous vote.

Along with Georgia, Indiana’s voter ID rules were the strictest in the nation until 2011. Indiana is also one of the few states to successfully prosecute a voting fraud case. On Feb 3, 2012, a jury found Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White (R) guilty on six felony counts of voter fraud, theft, and perjury.

Iowa Secretary of State, Matt Schultz, is using unspecified federal and state agency lists to purge Iowa’s voter registration database. Iowa has also created a new, unreliable way for people to make voter fraud complaints to the Secretary of State’s office. The new method would skirt Iowa law by removing a requirement that the person swear to the truth of their allegation, with criminal penalties for false reports.

2008 was the largest voter turnout in history. Voter reform measures in 2012 will certainly reverse the 48-year trend of increasing voter turnout in presidential elections. Voter suppression, aimed at short-term gain for one party, endangers our democratic process and society. We need more voters engaged, not fewer. We need longer voting hours, with additional days and weekends. We need online options. We need multiple, accessible polling places and voting centers. Bruce Hetrick said, “We need to motivate the American idle so our real elections trounce “American Idol.”

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