Civil and human rights organizations, voting rights advocates, labor organizations and elected officials from around the country are beginning to make a clarion call for the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene on the destructive pattern of voter suppression legislation being introduced by GOP governors from states such as Florida, Michigan and Georgia .
Disenfranchisement tactics such as voter ID proposals threaten decades of work by African-Americans and other racial minorities to run for and win elected office yielding major gains in civic participation and representation. The right to vote, particularly for racial and ethnic minorities, youth, the elderly and people with disabilities, is under assault.
Measures requiring stringent voter identification, proof of citizenship for registration, and cutbacks to early voting, eliminating same day, on-site voter registration, have been or are being pushed in 38 states.
Proponents of voter ID laws have long claimed that such restrictions are necessary in order to protect against phantom voter fraud schemes. Reality has never been an underpinning of these arguments. Such initiatives are harmful to our democracy and will result in restricting and reducing – rather than expanding – access to voting, and the percentage of our population that will cast votes in elections.
Earlier this year Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law legislation that will make it more difficult for students, seniors and minority residents to register, vote, and then have their ballots counted.
The law now forces more Florida residents to cast provisional ballots which are not likely to be counted, limits the number of days Floridians have access to the polls–cutting early voting days from 14 days to eight days and eliminating early voting on the Sunday before Election Day–and has effectively shut down the volunteer voting registration work of organizations like the League of Women Voters and the Boy Scouts.
“The fundamental right to vote has been crucial in the struggle to achieve racial equality,” said Lawyers’ Committee Executive Director Barbara R. Arnwine. “Lawmakers should not play partisan games by severely restricting a right that so many Americans have fought and died to secure. My hope is that we can come together as a nation to further expand access to our great democracy and encourage full participation in our elections.”
More and more states are enacting burdensome voter photo ID bills using general, unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and ignoring the disparate impact upon voters who have traditionally been disadvantaged, including minorities, the elderly, youth, low-income Americans and those with disabilities.
The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy. Disenfranchising legislation, combined with budget cuts, and voter intimidation tactics, could create a recipe for mass disenfranchisement in the 2012 election. As the 2012 elections approach it is more important than ever that all citizens have equal access to the ballot box.