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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.

Across the country, new Republican governors have found the policies that they're enacting are less popular than the promises on which they campaigned. 

Voters are experiencing extensive buyer's remorse in state after state, but while Republicans maintain control, they're doing everything in their power to consolidate their power. And one of the best ways to ensure future victories is to make sure voters who oppose you don't make it to the polls in the first place.

So under the pretense that "voter fraud" (which is basically nonexistent) is a serious problem, conservative governors and state legislatures are pushing through laws that severely limit access to the vote. from the elimination of same-day voter registration to unduly strict voter ID requirements. These may not sound like that big of a deal. But when it comes to on-the-ground voting patterns, they can substantially impact turnout.

It just so happens that these laws overwhelmingly target groups that tend to vote for Democrats: students, people of color, lower-income folks, and urban residents. 

Elimination of early voting periods means longer lines at the polls--and more people turning away because they simply don't have the time to wait. And imagine a mailing telling thousands of confused new voters that their ID requirements have changed, then imagine being challenged over your documents -- that's straight-up voter intimidation. Many people will stay home rather than risk embarrassment, or simply forget until the last minute that they haven't updated their driver's license. 

Over the course of history we've fought to increase the number of people eligible to vote, extending the ballot to previously disenfranchised constituencies. Now, as former President Bill Clinton notes, we've forgotten that history. The new class of GOP governors are accelerating attacks on voter rights in time for pivotal elections, and they know what they're doing. Clinton told the Campus Progress National Conference, “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the other Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today.”

Sixteen senators submitted a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking him to investigate whether the Voting Rights Act, one of the crown jewels of Civil Rights-era legislation, invalidates these state provisions.

Twenty states saw new proposed voter ID laws this year; 14 states saw attempts to strengthen existing voter ID requirements. We break down the 11 worst, but these are far from the only ones—the National Conference of State Legislatures notes that only three states don't have a voter ID law and didn't consider one this year.

1. Kansas

“With the stroke of a pen, the great state of Kansas became the gold standard in making it almost impossible to register to vote,”  Rachel Maddow said when she reported on Kansas's new voter ID law, which requires voters to submit a birth certificate or passport when they register to vote, to prove their citizenship.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, formerly of the radical anti-immigrant group FAIR, was the force behind this bill, and before his stint as secretary of state he helped write Arizona's infamous “Papers, Please” immigration bill, SB 1070. He also originally sought for his office the ability to prosecute election fraud, to impose harsher penalties on those convicted of committing election fraud, and to require proof of citizenship in 2012 instead of 2013. Legislators decided that giving him those powers wasn't a good idea—but he still wants them.

The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that Kobach has a long history of facing complaints of racial profiling, anti-immigrant bias, and even accusations of ties to white supremacists. In 2004, in a campaign for Congress, he accused his opponent of associating with a group that supports “homosexual pedophilia.” That group was the gay rights organization Human Rights Campaign.