Elections have consequences – some of them unintended. How many voters realized that Republican victories in 2010 would mean the disenfranchisement of potentially millions of voters?
Since then, state lawmakers nationwide have introduced more than 180 bills to restrict voting rights, a trend that began during the George W. Bush administration. At least 18 states have passed laws that include requiring photo identification to vote, ending election-day registration and reducing access to early and absentee voting.
The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that as many as 5 million Americans could have difficulty voting this fall as a result.
These laws are no coincidence. They are a coordinated effort among Republicans to narrow the voting population in ways that will increase their power. The courts and the federal government are stopping some of these attempts, but it’s like playing Whack-A-Mole.
The courts won’t be enough to protect voting rights if people keep electing lawmakers who want to restrict them. Voters need to make this an issue.
The driving force behind the movement is the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, whose other claim to fame is getting dozens of states to pass the controversial “stand your ground” laws related to the killing of Trayvon Martin. Restricting voting rights has one thing in common with those laws: Both respond to nonexistent threats.
Although sponsors of voting bills claim they’re only trying to keep elections fair, numerous studies by election law experts have found zero evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States. As a 2007 report by the Brennan Center put it, “It is more likely that an individual will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another person at the polls.”
There is a real danger facing conservative politicians, however: that they will lose power. That’s why nearly all of these laws target young, minority and low-income voters likely to vote Democratic. In Texas, for example, a concealed handgun license can be used as identification at the polls, but a student ID can’t.
Florida is ground zero in this battle. Republican Gov. Rick Scott ordered county elections officers to purge 2,700 people from the rolls, but his list was riddled with errors. It even included a man who had served in the Battle of the Bulge. The Miami Herald found it dominated by Democrats, independents and Hispanics. Fortunately, the U.S. Justice Department is suing Florida, claiming that it is violating the Voting Rights Act.
Florida also passed a bill restricting voter registration drives. It was so Draconian that the League of Women Voters and others stopped registering voters altogether until a federal judge blocked parts of it this month.
Any attempt to narrow the voting population is suspect; increasing voter participation should be a national goal. To reverse this trend, voters need to elect representatives who value voting rights.