New State Rules Raising Hurdles at Voting Booth

October 13th, 2011

New York Times
By Michael Cooper
Oct. 2, 2011

Since Republicans won control of many statehouses last November, more than a dozen states have passed laws requiring voters to show photo identification at polls, cutting back early voting periods or imposing new restrictions on voter registration drives.

With a presidential campaign swinging into high gear, the question being asked is how much of an impact all of these new laws will have on the 2012 race.

State officials, political parties and voting experts have all said that the impact could be sizable. Now, a new study to be released Monday by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law has tried to tally just how many voters stand to be affected.

The center, which has studied the new laws and opposed some of them in court and other venues, analyzed 19 laws that passed and 2 executive orders that were issued in 14 states this year, and concluded that they “could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.”

Republicans, who have passed almost all of the new election laws, say they are necessary to prevent voter fraud, and question why photo identification should be routinely required at airports but not at polling sites. Democrats counter that the new laws are a solution in search of a problem, since voter fraud is rare. They worry that the laws will discourage, or even block, eligible voters — especially poor voters, young voters and African-American voters, who tend to vote for Democrats.

The Justice Department must review the new laws in several states to make sure that they do not run afoul of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter identification law in 2008, saying that while it found no evidence of the fraud the law was intended to combat, it also found no evidence that the new requirements were a burden on voters.

“This year there’s been a significant wave of new laws in states across the country that have the effect of cracking down on voting rights,” said Michael Waldman, the executive director of the Brennan Center, who noted that five million votes would have made a difference in both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections. “It is the most significant rollback in voting rights in decades.”

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