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Voters Beware: As 2012 Election Begins, Legislative Initiatives Target Vulnerable Voters

April 14, 2011

With the 2012 election less than two years away, voter suppression efforts are already in high gear across the nation. There is a persistent and well-coordinated effort in state legislatures to deter minority, low-income, elderly, disabled and student voters from access to the ballot. In short, the right to vote which is fundamental to our democracy is under attack.

Proponents of these voter suppression efforts are purposely seeking to diminish the impact of voters who they feel would vote adversely to their agenda. Extreme measures are being taken to make it more difficult for target populations to vote while Americans are consumed with addressing the effects of natural disasters, wars and a dismal economy.

These efforts to limit access to the ballot take several forms, including voter identification and proof of citizenship laws, voter intimidation and suppression and “election integrity” squads who challenge voters at the polls. In addition to state legislative attacks, there are also attacks in the courts to challenges the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. They, not only threaten to further prevent certain eligible Americans from voting, but distract from the proactive reforms needed to fix inefficient, unequal and outdated election administration practices. What we need is a modern accessible system of elections.

Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, a vital provision in advancing equal access to the ballot box is under threat. In a recent constitutional challenge to the law, some members of the U.S. Supreme Court signaled that the provision – preventing jurisdictions with the worst histories of voting discrimination from implementing election changes without federal approval – may no longer be needed. At present, two additional challenges to the constitutionality of Section 5 are before the courts.

Impact on Low-Income, Minority, Elderly, Disabled and Student Voters
Photo identification requirements being proposed or becoming law in many states such as Ohio, Wisconsin, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Montana, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, are particularly burdensome on minority, low-income, elderly, disabled and student voters. Time and resources needed to acquire the identification as well as lack of easy access to the needed underlying documents such as a certified birth certificate and other forms of documentation pose significant challenges. A 2006 nationwide study of voting-age citizens found that 78 percent of African-American males aged 18 to 24 in Wisconsin lacked a valid driver’s license. Also, 24 percent of Black households are without automobiles, compared to 7 percent of White households. Consistently, studies estimate that more than 20 million individuals lack a government-issued photo ID.

In addition, Photo ID laws disproportionately affect those who are least able to afford it. The aforementioned 2006 survey concluded that voting-age citizens earning less than $35,000 in annual income were more than twice as likely to lack a government-issued ID as those earning more than $35,000. Although HB 159 has a provision which allows Ohioans to obtain a free ID, the steps in acquiring one are stricter than those afforded by Georgia and Indiana (the only other states currently requiring government-issued photo IDs).

In Colorado, HB 1252 would allow the secretary of state to check the statewide voter database to determine whether registered voters are in fact citizens. This unreliable system could affect 11,000 people who were not U.S. citizens at the time they obtained a driver’s license, but may have later become citizens.

In addition to adverse effects of photo ID laws which would limit their ability to vote where they attend school, students are increasingly targets of other voter suppression laws. Recently, in New Hampshire the legislature thankfully failed to pass restrictions on student voting. The bill died after a YouTube video surfaced showing the state’s Republican House speaker stating that he wanted to target “foolish” college students who vote liberal because “they don’t have life experience and they just vote their feelings.”

Persons with Felony Convictions
More onerously, a vestige of Jim Crow, felony disenfranchisement laws, are being made even more restrictive. For example, Florida Governor Rick Scott and other officials voted to change the rules of the Florida Clemency Board, revising four-year-old state rules that made it easier for ex-offenders to reclaim the right to vote. Non-violent offenders must wait a period of five years after the completion of their sentence to “apply” for the civil rights restoration.

It is incumbent that all Americans are vigilant about speaking out against the introduction of these disenfranchising laws. Your elected officials need to know that these laws are contrary to the spirit and ideals of our democracy.

(Trice Edney News Wire)

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