Voter Suppression 101: How Conservatives Are Conspiring to Disenfranchise Millions of Americans
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What's more, disabled Texans who are considered full guardians of the state and ineligible to vote would be shut out as well. One disabled gentleman had carried voter registration forms in his wheelchair for years, eager to register others for a democratic process he himself could not participate in. Under the new law, it would be illegal for him to continue registering new voters. As of February 2012, Texas's new law remains not in effect while the Justice Department determines whether it complies with the Voting Rights Act.
Kansas, Alabama, and Tennessee took a slightly different route, augmenting the required documentation necessary to register to vote. Each passed laws requiring residents to prove their citizenship before registering, either by presenting a birth certificate or passport. Less than a third of Americans currently own a passport, and citizens who don't have access to their birth certificate would be forced to pay for one in order to vote -- an almost certain violation of the 24th Amendment's ban on poll taxes. The problem is not small; at least 7 percent of Americans don't have easy access to a birth certificate or similar citizenship document.
Arizona and Georgia also passed similar legislation prior to 2011. The Justice Department is currently reviewing Georgia and Alabama's changes for compliance with the Voting Rights Act, and Arizona's law is being challenged in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Another avenue where conservatives are proposing to limit voting rights is tightening the residency requirements. The intended effect of these measures is to make it difficult, if not impossible, for out-of-state college students to vote where they attend school.
In Maine, young voters are being targeted even more brazenly. In September 2011 Maine's secretary of state sent a threatening letter to hundreds of college students who were legally registered to vote in the state, implying that many of them were in violation of election law and suggesting they correct this by unregistering in Maine. The list of college students targeted for this letter came directly from the Maine Republican Party Chairman, underscoring just how partisan the voter suppression effort in Maine has become. New Hampshire is now considering stricter residency requirements for Granite State voters as well.
All of this is especially surprising given the Supreme Court's decision in Symm v. United States, where it upheld a lower court decision establishing that states cannot place obstacles unique to college students between those students and their right to vote.
Limiting early voting
Following widespread voting problems in the 2000 election that had nothing to do with voter fraud -- from extraordinarily long lines to hanging chads -- many states moved to ease the burden on clerks and citizens by allowing people to vote prior to Election Day. Ohio and Florida were the epicenter of these problems, and both states moved to prevent similar problems in the future by allowing early voting.
Among conservatives, then-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush was a major proponent of such reforms, calling them a "wonderful" way to "provide access to the polls." As a result, over half of Sunshine State voters cast their ballot before Election Day in 2008.
Yet three years later, lawmakers in the state moved to limit the availability of early voting. In Florida voters had previously been permitted two weeks of early voting prior to the election; lawmakers rolled that back to eight days. Ohio lawmakers went even further, reducing the state's early voting period from 35 days to just 11. Ari Berman also notes in Rolling Stone that "both states banned voting on the Sunday before the election -- a day when black churches historically mobilize their constituents."