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11 States Trying Really Hard to Keep Poor, Black, and Student Voters From Voting

The 2012 election is closer than you think--and just in time, states are passing a host of new bills aimed at making it harder to vote.

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Maine was a leader in the country with its nearly 40-year-old same-day voter registration law. Sixty-thousand Mainers (in a state with a population of 1.3 million, that's a not-insignificant number) took advantage of same-day registration in 2008, and it's credited with being the force behind the state's high voter turnout numbers.

And now that same-day voter registration is gone. But Mainers want it back, and are gathering signatures on petitions to get the issue on the ballot in November. With the defeat of voter ID in the state, maybe Maine will retain its high turnout numbers.

11. Rhode Island


Not only is Rhode Island not a Southern state with a long history of disenfranchising voters of color, but its voter ID bill was pushed by Democrats and signed into law by moderate independent governor Lincoln Chafee. What gives?

John Gramlich at Stateline wrote:

It is unclear, however, just how pleased Chafee actually is with the legislation he signed. As the  Journal reports, he signed the voter ID bill over the long holiday weekend, but did not announce the signing on his website or by speaking with interested parties. Word of the signing leaked out only after the Rhode Island Tea Party — typically not the biggest ally of Democrats in the legislature — praised lawmakers and Chafee for enacting the new law.

Chafee signed the bills at the same time as he legalized civil unions for same-sex couples, and  State Senator Harold M. Metts said his black and Latino constituents asked him to sponsor the bill out of their own concern for voter fraud.

Starting in 2012, the law will require poll workers to ask for a photo ID—though if they don't have one, they can present a Social Security or Medicare card. By 2014, voters need a government-issued photo ID, which will be issued for free by the state government.

Rhode Island is hardly a battleground on the federal level, so it's unlikely that the voter ID law there will have an impact on national elections, but its bipartisan support could be used as leverage by those supporting voter ID bills elsewhere that could have much more substantial effects. If Democrats and relatively moderate independents like Chafee are buying into the conservative frame that "voter fraud"--voters lying about their identity in order to vote--is a bigger problem than voter suppression, we could see a lot more bills like these in the coming years. 



Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @seasonothebitch.