The GOP War On Voting Continues


While some in the media continue to pretend that the Republican Party has learned its lesson from the 2012 election losses and is now seeking to take a more moderate and serious approach to governing, the reality is that the GOP crazy train is continuing to chug long. The latest example of this fact is that Republicans are continuing their efforts to restrict voting by Democratic-leaning groups through state legislative proposals that would establish significant hurdles to voting.

Perhaps the most egregious example of the continued GOP war on voting is in North Carolina, where three Republican State Senators have proposed legislation that is clearly intended to restrict voting by college students. The legislation, the appropriately numbered S666 and its companion bill S667, would prohibit a parent from taking a personal exemption on their taxes for a child who registers to vote at a different address than his or her parent’s. The personal exemption ranges between $2,000 and $2,500 per child and, therefore, would constitute a significant incentive for parents getting their children not to register to vote when they go to college. In addition, the legislation would require that a registered voter have his or her car registered at the same address as they are registered to vote at, which would additionally discourage college students from registering to vote when they go to college if their car is registered at their parents’ home. S666 would also restrict the ability of election judges to rein in polling place observers who are interfering with people who are attempting to vote, while a series of other legislative proposals would shorten early voting, end early voting on Sundays, enact a strict voter ID requirement, and prohibit someone convicted of a felony from voting until at least five years after they complete their sentence.

Unfortunately, North Carolina is not the only state where the GOP is seeking to suppress voting. In Arkansas, the Republican state legislature on Thursday overrode Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s veto of a law that would establish strict voter ID requirements for voting. With a few limited exceptions, the Arkansas voter ID law requires a voter to produce a driver’s license, college ID, concealed handgun license, US passport, or similar identification in order to vote.

Last week, Virginia’s Republican Governor Bob McDonnell signed legislation making that state’s voter ID law much stricter by limiting the types of IDs that qualify under the law. Under the new law, starting with the 2014 elections voters will have to show a driver’s license, passport, or government issued photo ID in order to vote.

As detailed in a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice, numerous other voter suppression proposals have been proposed in 2013, including:

  • Photo ID laws proposed in at 22 states
  • Restrictions on voter registration in 9 states
  • Shortening of early voting in 7 states

There can be little dispute that the Republicans’ motivation for pursuing such legislation is to attempt to reduce voting by college students, people of color, poor people, and other Democratic-leaning groups. For one thing, the claims of “voter fraud” that Republicans use as an excuse for voter ID laws are completely unfounded as Pennsylvania Republicans essentially admitted when they unsuccessfully attempted to defend their voter ID law in court last year. In addition, the evidence that the photo ID and other requirements will disproportionately impact people of color, the elderly, poor people, and college students is strong. For example

  • As a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice details, while 10% of Americans lack the photo IDs needed to vote in states with voter ID laws, 25% of African Americans, 16% of Latinos, and 18% of people over the age of 65 lack such IDs.
  • In order to obtain a photo ID, you typically need a birth certificate. But many African Americans who were born in the South during Jim Crow were often never even issued a birth certificate.
  • While states with voter ID laws typically provide an option for obtaining a free ID, states with photo ID laws charge between $8 and $25 for a copy of the birth certificate needed to obtain the ID.
  • Obtaining a photo ID means at least one trip to the DMV, which can be burdensome if you are one of the millions of people in voter ID states who do not have access to a car and/or if you cannot afford to take time off from work. The difficulty of making a trip to the DMV without a car or with limited ability to take time off from work is heightened by the fact that many DMV offices have limited hours. For example, Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Texas, and Wisconsin have no DMV offices that are open on weekends.
  • If you are living with family or friends because your house was recently foreclosed upon, or because you lost your job, etc. you are unlikely to have utility bills or other documents needed to prove your address for purposes of obtaining a photo ID.
  • College students attending school from out-of-state are unlikely to have the documents needed to get a photo ID by the deadline, which is only a month or two after the college school year starts.

In short, voter ID laws are little more than a blatant partisan power grab by the GOP instituted under the false pretense of “voter fraud” that, when push comes to shove, even the GOP admits does not occur.

The good news is that the GOP’s voter suppression strategy failed in 2012. Many of their legislative proposals were vetoed by Democratic Governors or halted either by courts or by the U.S. Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. And, significantly, voter turnout patterns in the 2012 elections suggest that the GOP’s effort to suppress voting backfired by motivating targeted groups to turnout in even higher numbers.

In order to ensure that the GOP’s voter suppression strategy backfires again this time around, we have to make sure that we once again aggressively publicize and challenge the GOP’s efforts, and promote a positive voting rights agenda that makes our voter registration and voting process easier, rather than more difficult, for voters. Here are three things you can do:

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