Voter Suppression 101: How Conservatives Are Conspiring to Disenfranchise Millions of Americans
Continued from previous page
With this groundwork laid, ALEC today is spearheading these efforts anew. These new anti-voting laws are being challenged legally by a variety of nonpartisan organizations ranging from Rock the Vote to the League of Women Voters to the Public Interest Research Group. Additionally, the Department of Justice is reviewing some of the new state laws for possible violations of the Voting Rights Act, which freezes changes in election practices or procedures in nine southern states due to their history of voter suppression in the past.
This issue brief focuses on both the current status of various anti-voter measures throughout our country as well as the legal challenges they face. Readers will learn how conservatives want to return to past practices of voter suppression to preserve their political power, and looks at several instances where progressives are fighting back successfully.
Let's begin with voter registration restrictions. In a handful of states, legislators aren't just making it more difficult to vote; they're making it more difficult for citizens even to register in the first place. Lawmakers in half a dozen states made a variety of changes to the registration process in 2011. These include limiting when citizens can register, restricting who is permitted to help them, and implementing tougher bureaucratic requirements to register.
Nowhere has the war on registration been more controversial than the state of Maine. Since 1973, Mainers have been permitted to register to vote at the ballot box. For nearly 40 years, the system worked smoothly -- separate lines for registering and voting are used to prevent congestion -- and just two instances of voter fraud were found in the entire span.
Nevertheless, when an unusually conservative group of lawmakers took over both statehouse chambers and the governorship in 2010, one of their primary orders of business was to repeal the state's law permitting citizens to register on Election Day. Fortunately, in the ensuing weeks citizens of the state rallied to collect tens of thousands of signatures and force a vote on the matter. In November 2011, 61 percent of Mainers rebuked the legislature and voted to restore Election Day registration in their state.
"I don't want everybody to vote."
--Heritage Foundation co-founder Paul Weyrich
Alas, voting rights proponents in other states have not been as successful. In Florida and Texas, for example, lawmakers succeeded in placing onerous new restrictions on nonprofit organizations that help register new voters. Voter registration drives by groups such as the League of Women Voters have been a staple of our democracy for years, helping thousands of citizens to register, regardless of their political affiliation.
In the Sunshine State, however, those may now be a thing of the past. Last July, the League of Women Voters announced it would no longer operate in Florida because of new anti-voter legislation -- including complicated new filing requirements and a mandate to submit completed registration forms within 48 hours of completion or face a hefty fine -- made it nearly impossible for them to continue their work.
The Lone Star State also placed unnecessary new requirements on groups and individuals interested in helping register others. Texas lawmakers in May passed legislation requiring that people who help register voters, known as volunteer deputy registrars, must also be eligible Texas voters themselves. The new law has a number of unintended consequences. For instance, legal permanent residents who are in the process of obtaining their citizenship would be barred from learning the political process by helping register others. Many such immigrants are currently employed as deputy registrars; this new law would likely result in their firing.