The War on Black Voters

It's not just about photo ID. A far-reaching wave of state laws will make voting in 2012 harder.

Voters in Georgia (Alexandra Garcia/the Washington Post)

A curious phenomenon occurred in 2011. As if in concert, 40 Republican-controlled state legislatures introduced changes to their voting procedures. The laws read as minor tweaks and adjustments, and they vary from state to state, but they all have the outcome of making it harder to vote. Incidentally, the efforts have been strongest in battleground states that were competitive in the 2008 election. Among the people most impacted are millions of eligible African-American, Latino and youth voters who supported President Obama and Democratic candidates in droves in 2008.

Or perhaps that effect is not so incidental.

"This is not a coincidence," said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, one of several organizations to cast the laws as a coordinated assault on the voting rights, and political power, of people of color. "Not only because of the states where we're seeing [new voting laws] pop up, but it's also not a mistake because of the way that this has been done."

It Started With Photo-ID Laws ...

For months, organizations including the NAACP, the Democratic National Committee and Advancement Project have been ringing the alarm about the unprecedented wave of laws demanding strict forms of government-issued photo identification as a new prerequisite to vote. They've repeatedly argued that the legislation -- which has passed in eight states with dozens more pending -- acutely disenfranchises African-American voters, 25 percent of whom do not possess the required photo ID (compared with 8 percent of whites).

They've pointed out the following: Prohibitive costs for low-income people to obtain an ID. The refusal of some states to accept state-issued student ID. The public suggestion from a GOP strategist that suppressing the African-American vote is "exactly why we need voter-ID [laws]." The added obstacle of having to first supply a birth certificate or other documentation. The fact that with a grand total of nine suspected cases of voter fraud since 2000, an individual is far more likely to be struck by lightning or to report seeing a UFO.

"We've heard the Republican talking points that these laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud," said Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee. "The truth is that every major investigation into voter fraud, including a five-year investigation by the Bush Justice Department, has arrived at the same conclusion: There is almost none."

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Other Rollbacks on Voting Rights?

Photo-ID laws, however, are just one arm of various proposals around the country that create new barriers to voting. Other efforts include: