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Republicans Reverse a 150-year-old Trajectory in US and Enact Laws That Restrict Voting Rights

The GOP's priority is to ensure continued power by reducing the turnout of demographic groups like students, blacks, Hispanics that traditionally vote Democrat.

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But the lack of a shred of documented evidence of voter fraud was irrelevant to the Court.  The Court decided that Indiana did not have to demonstrate that a photo ID was needed to prevent fraud.  The burden of proof was on petitioners to prove not only that a photo ID would be burdensome, but that it would be extremely burdensome.

With the Court ruling in 2008 conservative Republicans attacked.  In 2011 at least thirty-four states  introduced bills to require photo ID to vote.  Seven enacted them into law.

In 2011 at least twelve states  introduced bills to require proof of citizenship to register or vote.  Three states enacted these into law. Five states restricted early voting. Two states  reversed executive actions that had made it easier for citizens with past felony convictions to restore their voting rights.

The 2011 Florida law is perhaps the purest distillation of the Republican effort to making voting more difficult.  Indeed, during Florida’s legislative debate, State Senator Michael Bennett, the Chamber’s President Pro-Tempore  insisted that voting “is a hard-fought privilege. This is something people died for. Why should we make it easier?”

In 2008 Obama won Florida by just 2.5 percent.  Two factors accounted for his victory.  First, Florida opened the polls two weeks early.  Even so, long lines across the state prompted the governor to issue an emergency order extending the hours for early voting. That enabled waves of new voters, often minorities and students to vote.  Early voting also included voting the Sunday before election day. Obama’s “souls to the polls” drives successfully brought tens of thousands of blacks and Latinos to vote after church.  According to the Palm Beach Post “[m]ore than half of the black voters in the [November 2008] election voted before Election Day and many of them went on [the] final Sunday.”

The second factor was the success of voter registration drives. In 2008, more than a million new voters were  added to Florida’s rolls, 233,000 of them from voter registration drives. Hispanic and African-American voters are approximately  twice as likely to register through a voter registration drive as white voters.

The 2011 law reduced early voting from two weeks to one week. Voting on the Sunday before Election Day was eliminated. Florida eliminated the longstanding right of voters who moved before an election to update their new address at the polls on Election Day.  The law now requires a photo ID.  As  many as 25% of African-American voters do not possess a current and valid form of government issued photo ID, compared to 11% of voters of all races.

The 2011 required those who register new voters to turn in completed forms within 48 hours or risk fines.  The New York Times recently  reportedthis has led the League of Women Voters to abandon its efforts this year. A national organization that encourages young people to vote, Rock the Vote, recently began to register high school students around the nation.  But not in Florida, because of fears that teachers could face fines.

Prior to 2007, nearly one million Floridians who were convicted of a felony were permanently  disenfranchised in the state; almost a quarter of them were African-American. In 2007, Republican Governor Charlie Crist simplified and streamlined the  process for individuals with non-violent convictions to regain their voting rights, affecting some 150,000 Floridians.  In 2011 Governor Rick Scott returned Florida to its pre 2007 policy.  Some 87,000 persons who were in the “backlog” of cases  waiting for restoration will not have their voting rights restored.

That the Republicans objective in changing the voting rules is to consolidate power is incontestable.  Consider Texas’s new voter ID law.  It doesn’t allow voters to use student ID’s but does permit them to use concealed weapon licenses. A few weeks ago the US Department of Justice  rejectedthe new law as a violation of the Voting Rights Act.  Texas is appealing.

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