WASHINGTON D.C.—Voting law changes that could strip over 5 million people of their voting rights are facing opposition from Congressional lawmakers.
On 12 October 2011 and 19 October 2011, the Viễn Đông reported on the Brennan Center for Justice’s findings regarding new laws that could disadvantage voters.
Since the 2010 elections, 34 states, including California, have introduced changes to voting law legislation and 12 states have actually changed their voting laws.
Some state laws will require voters to have government issued photo IDs, while others will fine groups involved in voter registration, like the League of Women Voters, if registration paperwork has any errors.
Changes to voting hours, limits on early voting days, and zero voting access for ex-felons are also some states’ new laws.
The states that passed the new laws are mostly Southern or Midwest states, located in regions where democratic injustices have historically and consistently occurred: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas, Ohio, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, and Maine.
These states’ voting law changes have also been largely backed by Republican lawmakers, reportedly in alliance with private corporations seeking to influence election results for their benefits.
“Voting is the heart of democracy…yet today, our voting systems are deeply flawed” the Brennan Center for Justice’s website reads. “We boast the world’s oldest representative government, but barely half of all Americans vote.”
Democrat lawmakers fight back, Republican justification
On 3 November 2011, Democrats in the House of Representatives sent letters to election officials in 50 states, citing voting law changes and the injustices they could cause in the 2012 elections.
“The Department [Department of Justice] needs to determine whether or not there was broad-based motivation to suppress the vote -- and, if so, whether any laws were violated," Florida Senator Bill Nelson was quoted in Agence Free Presse (AFP).
The Democrat lawmakers believe the new laws would make it more difficult for elderly people, young voters, and African Americans to vote, as they are less likely to have government issued photo IDs.
Most youth and African Americans voted Democrat in the 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections.
The Democrat lawmakers also believe that the new voting law changes are reminiscent of laws that historically kept African Americans, as well as Native Americans and poor Whites, from voting in Southern states.
Such laws included poll taxes and literacy tests, which required people to pay taxes to vote and tested the literacy of potential voters, respectively. These laws were abolished by the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 1965, making it illegal to dilute minority voters’ voices.
However, the Democrat lawmakers feel that abolishing such laws only created avenues for newer voting laws that could disadvantage the electorate.
For example, the Democrat lawmakers share the publicized story of Ms. Dorothy Cooper, an age 96 woman who has voted for the last 70 years with no trouble. This year, she had a difficult time obtaining the necessary voting ID under new voting law in Tennessee.
She was turned away from obtaining her ID twice, once because she brought her birth certificate without her marriage certificate to show her name change. The other time she brought her birth and marriage certificates, her telephone bill, and her lease, but did not have her social security card.
After U.S. media highly publicized her situation, she obtained the necessary identification.
Republican lawmakers believe the new laws will prevent illegal immigrants from voting, as well as make it more difficult for people to cast ballots in multiple states.
“I have no desire to suppress people from voting,” South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham was quoted in AFP. “When it comes to voting, I don't think it's too much of a stretch to say you have to prove that you are who you say you are.”
Cali’s introduced legislation
California’s Assembly Bill’s (AB) 663 and 945, which also would have required voting ID law changes, have failed.
As the nationwide state voting law changes have been reportedly backed by Republicans in most states, some of California’s voting law change bills have been backed and even authored by Democrats.
The State almost passed a bill regulating voting registration, making it difficult for third party groups registering voters to pay their employees based on how many people employees attempted to register.
Senate Bill (SB) 205, authored by 34th Senate District Democrat Senator Lou Correa, was introduced to the State legislature in February 2011 and vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2011.
In the bill, Senator Correa wrote that in 2010, Orange County elections officials received complaints from voters saying they were re-registered with a political party without their permission. Companies registering voters paid their employees $8-10 for every completed voter registration card.
“I understand the author's desire to stop fraudulent voter registration,” Governor Brown wrote in a veto message. “Efforts to register voters should be encouraged, not criminalized.”
Senator Correa was, however, successful in another voting law change he authored.
In October 2011, Governor Brown signed SB 183, allowing the State to count ballots that have identifiable marks or information on them, like a scribble to ensure a working pen.
Prior to the new law, ballots with identifiable marks or information were tossed out.
“This bill not only ensures more votes get counted, but also educates voters on how to properly mark their ballot,” Senator Correa was quoted in a press release. “This new law makes a simple change to our elections process that will substantially benefit California voters.”
Thought to consider
Are voting law changes helpful for your community? Will they hinder your community’s democratic participation?