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03 October 2011

Political Landscape: Voting Rights

The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law has published a review of Voting Law Changes in 2012.  These changes restrict voting rights for millions of citizens who were otherwise eligible to vote.  The entire sixty-four page document is worth reading.  Here are a few highlights of types of changes and my opinions.

1.  Photo ID laws.  The idea of requiring a government issued photo ID in order to vote makes sense on a gut level.  No one wants voter fraud and showing your id would decrease the likelihood of fraud.  The Brennan Center has a study that indicates that there is little voter fraud in the United States.  Is there another view?  Of course, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners believes that the numbers are much higher in an article they published in 2006.  There are many other studies out there (Google it).

My opinion:  a picture ID is a reasonable requirement only if it is reasonably easy to obtain and free; to do otherwise is a new poll tax.  In Alabama, US Representative Sewell is concerned about people's ability to get to a location where they can get the new ID.  In Kansas, the ACLU is concerned about residents born out of state acquiring valid birth certificates in order to qualify for the new IDRhode Island is different among these states in that any official Rhode Island or federal photo ID is good.  In South Carolina, the new ID requirement may cost hundreds of thousands the opportunity to work; twenty-five were given free rides to acquire their ID.  There is concern in Tennessee about the elderly being able to vote.  In Texas, the voter ID law is being challenged because it may be discriminatory to minorities.  In Wisconsin, the DMV is charging $28 for the new voter ID unless people happen to know to request that it be free.

It does not look like these are all being implemented in a fashion that is free and fair.  Again, I favor requiring a photo ID for voting ... as long as it can be easily obtained by those entitled to vote and that it not be a new poll tax.

2.  Proof of Citizenship laws.  As with photo ID, this makes sense on a gut level.

My opinion:  the problems with these laws are the same as those for photo ID.  In Alabama this slows down automobile licensing and eventually voting.  Republicans feel this enhances the integrity of voting in Kansas.  There are concerns in Tennessee about ambiguous requirements.

3.  Making voter registration harder.  Maine removed same day registration to vote.  Ohio removed same week registration to vote.  Florida and Texas are restricting voter registration drives.  Florida and Wisconsin are changing requirements to vote after moving.

My opinions:  Same day voting sounds problematic at the gut level.  However, we have citizens who are legally entitled to vote whose jobs keep them on the road.  We have ex-patriots who return to the United States for the purpose of voting (or vote using an absentee ballot) all legally.  Requiring them to stay in town for extended periods could be a hardship ... and unfair burden.  There have been experiments with provisional ballots that make more sense than restricting registration.

Restricting registration drives does not make sense.  It simply doesn't.  The principle of one person - one vote (originally one man - one vote) has long been enshrined as a hallmark of American democracy.  Unlike requiring a photo ID, this limits new voters only.  It is partisan and flatly unAmerican.

Similarly, restricting eligibility to vote based on moving does not make sense.  If moving means that there is a need to double check and make sure that the voter is not voting twice, then use provisional ballots until there is verification.  Don't stop people from legally voting.

4.  Reducing early and absentee voting.  I have mixed feelings here.  Eliminating the option for either early or absentee voting would be wrong.  Limiting it depends upon the details.

Florida's early voting has more hours for eight days with extended hours instead of fourteen daysGeorgia is cutting back from forty-five days to twenty-one days but adding a SaturdayOhio's new restrictions in early voting appear to be on hold.  Tennessee and West Virginia have tightened their schedules as well.  Early voting for all states is on-line at long distance voter.

5.  The most controversial of the laws, Florida and Iowa have made it more difficult, if not impossible, for ex-cons to regain their voting rights.  While ex-cons are always uncomfortable to discuss, these are citizens who have already paid their dues to society for their crimes and have been allowed to rejoin society.  Never allowing them to become full citizens again seems wrong.

Conclusion:  While photo IDs may be implemented as a reasonable requirement to vote, I question them way many states are doing so, particularly Wisconsin with its "free if you are in the know" IDs.  The governors and legislatures enacting these laws claimed that their goals were to reduce taxes and increase jobs.  Restricting voting does neither.  Most of these restrictions appear to have the goal of disenfranchising new eligible voters.  Limiting access for those who are legally entitled to vote is unAmerican. 

More changes may be in the works.  Governing the States and Localities has an interesting take on the future of voting regulations.

14 October 2011, FollowUp 1.
22 October 2011, FollowUp 2.
6 November, FollowUp 3.
14 November 2011, FollowUp 4.
14 December 2011, FollowUp 5.
8 March 2012, FollowUp 6.
2 April 2012, FollowUp 7.
3 June 2012, FollowUp 8.