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.
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:
* Restrictions on voter registration drives: Florida and Texas passed laws placing stringent requirements and penalties on groups -- such as churches and community associations -- that conduct voter-registration drives. In Florida these groups must now, among other requirements, submit all completed registration forms to the state within 48 hours or face fines of up to $1,000 -- per voter.
Unable to sufficiently work under the tight deadlines or risk the steep financial burden caused by the new rules, many third-party voter-registration groups, such as the League of Women Voters, have simply shut down operations in the state. Because minority voters are far more likely to register through drives -- in Florida, 20 percent of African Americans and 15 percent of Latinos registered to vote that way in 2008, compared with just 6 percent of whites -- these laws clearly stand to diminish their political participation.
* Requirements to prove citizenship to register: New legislation in Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee effectively challenges the citizenship of anyone who registers to vote, requiring people to show documented proof such as a birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers.
It's a requirement that further hinders voter-registration drives, which are usually set up in public spaces where communities congregate. "I can't do that work if the person I try to register doesn't have proof of citizenship on them at that point," said Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director of Voto Latino. "How many people walk around with their birth certificates? It's impeding at the very basic level of what our democratic principles lie on." The requirement is also uniquely burdensome to elderly African Americans who were born when legal segregation prevented access to hospitals and, thus, were never issued birth certificates.
* Reductions to early voting: Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia enacted laws to reduce early voting -- states where, in 2008, an average of 30 percent of voters cast early ballots, with African Americans twice as likely to use early voting than whites. In North Carolina, for example, a new 15-day early voting period was responsible for increasing voter participation by 10 percent in 2008, with most of those voters favoring President Obama. This year early voting was reduced from 15 to nine days, with new restrictions on the hours that counties can open polling locations.
"In Florida, the state Legislature took away the last Sunday before Election Day, which was a very important day in the black community throughout the state," said Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, explaining a popular "Souls to the Polls" campaign in which African-American churches rallied caravans to get their congregations to vote on that Sunday. "That particular Sunday was expressly taken out by the state legislature."
* Reducing voting rights of people with felony convictions: This year Florida and Iowa adopted measures to permanently block people convicted of felonies from voting. In both states, executive orders that had previously restored the voting rights of such individuals after they'd finished serving their sentences were reversed, disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of citizens for life.