After decades of trying to ease voting restrictions that suppress voter turnout in the U.S., already among the lowest among industrialized nations, Republican-led state legislators and GOP governors have quickly implemented or proposed a series of changes aimed at reducing Black political clout.
Among the recent developments to limit Black voter participation:
* At least 34 states have introduced legislation that would require voters to show photo identification in order to vote.
* At least 12 states have introduced bills that would require proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, to register or vote.
* At least 13 states have introduced legislation to end popular Election Day and same-day voter registration.
* At least nine states have introduced bills to reduce their early voting periods.
* Two states — Florida and Iowa — have reversed prior executive orders that made it easier for ex-felons to vote.
These voter suppression efforts are detailed in a recent report by the Brennan Center at New York University’s School of Law titled, Voting Law Changes in 2012. “The general thrust of the law over the past few decades has been to ease registration requirements to make it easier for eligible citizens to get on the voter rolls,” the report stated. “The most significant advance was the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the ‘Motor Voter’ law, which made voter registration opportunities widely available across the country. More recently, states have taken the lead in modernizing their voter registration systems so that more voters are getting on the rolls and the rolls are getting more accurate.”
However, that’s no longer the case. “This year, the tide reversed,” the report observed. “Instead of efforts to increase voter registration, this year new registration requirements have been instated that will make it more challenging for eligible voters to ensure that they are registered to vote on Election Day. Voter registration regulations range from restrictions on individuals and groups who help register voters, to efforts to scale back Election Day and same-day registration, to new rules making it harder for voters to stay registered after they move.”
These new restrictions could have a significant impact on the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. The states that have already placed further restrictions on voting will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 — 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency. Of the 12 battleground states, five have already cut back on voting rights and two more are considering following their lead.
Most of the public attention on voter disenfranchisement has centered on voter identification laws. Prior to 2006, no state required its voters to show government-issued ID, according to the study. In 2006, Indiana became the first state to require voters to show a government-issued photo ID. This year, 34 states introduced similar legislation. Of those, seven have been enacted so far: Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. The type of government ID accepted is also an issue. Texas, for example, will recognize permits to carry concealed weapons, but not student IDs from state universities.
The partial or full elimination of early voting on Sundays will certainly reduce the Black vote. Ohio has eliminated all in-person early voting on Sundays. Florida has eliminated it for the last Sunday before Election Day. And North Carolina is considering eliminating all in-person voting on Sundays.
The Sunday restrictions target “Souls to the Polls” campaign popular in African-American churches. Forbidding early voting on the last Sunday before an election hurts Blacks. Florida is a perfect example. In the 2008 general election, 32.2 percent of those who voted early on the last Sunday were Black and 23.6 percent were Latino (Blacks represent 13.4 percent of all early voters in the state and Latinos 11.6 percent).
The movement to restore the rights of the formerly incarcerated has also hit a roadblock.
Since 1997, according to the report, 23 states have either restored voting rights for the formerly incarcerated or eased the restoration process.
“By executive action, Govs. Terry Branstad of Iowa and Rick Scott of Florida, both Republicans, returned their state policies to de facto permanent disenfranchisement,” the report said. Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, also a Republican, vetoed a bill with bipartisan support that would have automatically restored voting rights to anyone who honorably completed a felony sentence and probation or parole.
One of most serious threats to Black voting is the curbs being placed on community groups that assist in voter registration, such as the National Coalition on Black Voter Participation.
Texas is considering a proposal that would require anyone who registers voters to first be deputized and attend mandatory training that ends with an exam. On May 19, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a new law that requires voter registration groups to pre-register with the state before engaging in voter registration activity and mandates that every voter registration form collected be presented to county officials within 48 hours of signature. Those who don’t comply face civil penalties. In addition, the group conducting the voter registration must place their state-issued ID code on each form collected from a voter.
The net results of these new laws could mean the disenfranchisement of at least 5 million voters, the Brennan Center report noted. Republicans have made it clear that their primary goal is to defeat President Obama in 2012. What they are not saying is that they hope to do that by suppressing the Black vote.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.