Nationwide changes may affect low-income voters, especially racial and ethnic minorities.
New legislation that would require voters to present valid, current photo identification could hinder voters in next year’s presidential elections.
This year, 34 states, including Virginia, where statewide elections are being held today, considered legislation that could change voting requirements and make it more difficult for those without photo ID.
Supporters of voter ID laws say the regulations are needed to prevent election fraud, but critics say they could disenfranchise minority voters.
Thirty states already require voters to show ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Kansas and Wisconsin enacted new voter ID requirements this year. Minnesota, New Hampshire and North Carolina approved voter ID laws this year, but they were vetoed by their governors.
Organizations in the U.S. are coming together in attempts to thwart similar legislation in other states. These groups include the American Civil Liberties Union, African-American and Latino organizations and church councils, who say that millions of Americans will be disenfranchised if this legislation is passed.
Research by the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan public policy and law institute,found that 21 million people, or 11 percent of the American population, do not have the required identification. A disproportionate number of these Americans are low-income, of racial and ethnic minorities, or elderly.
Pew Research Center polls have suggested that these new voter regulations would help the Republican Party in its bid to win back the presidency in 2012. The voters who are most affected by the new rules traditionally have had lower voter turnout but came out in record numbers to vote for Obama in 2008. Their absence could have an effect on Democrats, in particular. Latino voters made up 9.5 percent of all eligible voters in 2008, and African-Americans accounted for 11.8 percent.
The Republican response to the 2008 defeat has been to propose a change in the law so that voters would have to show an official ID before they could vote, said
Jason Easley, the publisher of PoliticusUSA, a liberal and independent news site.
In North Carolina, the State Board of Elections found that this could cause a problem for 556,000 residents of that state, especially since 27 percent of the African-American residents of the state do not have photo IDs.
Easley notes that in 2008, Obama “carried North Carolina with only 14,177 votes,” and the “disenfranchisement of 1 percent of these people could swing the state Republican in 2012.”
Proponents of the revisions argue that changes must be made in the law to prevent fraud. However, proving voter fraud is difficult. A five-year study on voter fraud performed by the Justice Department under George W. Bush discovered that out of 196 million votes cast during the 2004 Presidential election, only 86 cases of fraud could be proved.
Garry Ellis, the Voter Registration Coordinator of Virginia, said that with the various laws in place, there shouldn’t be a problem with people voting on Tuesday. Residents have to show their drivers’ licenses or a state-issued identification card to vote. Citizens who do not have the proper identification will be authorized to complete a provisional ballot. With this form, they fill out an affirmation of identity, which is a legal document that gives the state the right to prosecute if fraud is committed.
“Everyone should be able to vote if they have the proper identification upon coming to the voting booth, and if they are turned away they should be advised to contact the state registration board,” Ellis said.
Skeptics of changes to voting laws include Professor Angie Chuang of American University.
“I think the voter identification bill is excessive. There are very few documented cases of fraud, and it affects the poor and minorities disproportionately. It’s generally undemocratic to restrict people’s access to voting who have a right to do so,” Chuang said.
Kendra Patterson, a Howard University alumnus said, “It sounds to me like what is happening here is that they are trying to figure out a way to discourage certain demographics of people from voting,” she said.
Patterson, who is African American, said she is personally offended. “We have fought for our rights to vote… have protested, have marched. So I have a long lineage of voter registration,” she said.
Other objections to current voter identification bills have increased due to a perception that Republicans are attempting to turn back the clock to discriminatory voting policies. In May 2011, when Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich suggested that a mandatory American history test be passed by native born American citizens in order to vote, some people strongly objected.
Congressman Allen West (R-Fla.), an African American member of the Tea Party, rebuked Gingrich by commenting, “That’s going back to some times that my parents had to contend with,” referring to the Jim Crow literacy test that prevented most blacks from voting.
“The right to vote is the bedrock of our collective American values. When disenfranchisement occurs it not only hurts the voter, but dims the beacon of freedom that shines throughout this land in the name of our great republic,” Easley said.