Election 2014  
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Voter Suppression 101: How Conservatives Are Conspiring to Disenfranchise Millions of Americans

A spate of anti-voting-rights proposals in states as different as Florida and Wisconsin is not occurring by accident. Instead, many of these laws are being spread through ALEC.

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Other states have successfully rolled back their early voting periods as well. Georgia reduced early voting from 45 to 21 days, Wisconsin shortened their period by 16 days, West Virginia by five days, and Tennessee by two.

In one bright spot, voting rights proponents in the Buckeye State are fighting back against the new changes. Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans signed a petition to hold a referendum on the voting changes, suspending the law until voters decide its fate in November 2012.

Voter ID laws

The chief sponsor of Georgia's voter ID legislation, Rep. Sue Burmeister (R-Augusta), told the Justice Department the bill would keep more African Americans from voting, which was fine with her since "if there are fewer black voters because of this bill, it will only be because there is less opportunity for fraud."

The most common type of voter-related legislation in 2011 was the mandate that individuals must show certain kinds of government-issued photo ID at the polls before being allowed to vote. To date, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin have all passed such laws, and similar measures have been proposed by 24 more.

But with more than 1 in 10 voters (over 21 million Americans) currently lacking these photo IDs, it's clear that such laws could have a disastrous effect. 20 Voter ID laws have the potential to exclude millions of Americans, especially seniors, students, minorities, and people in rural areas One example is Osceola, Wisconsin: A small town in the northwestern part of the state with a population of under 3,000 people. The town is 30 minutes away from the nearest DMV offices and both are rarely open.

Defenders of these laws claim they are necessary to prevent voter fraud. In reality they are a solution in search of a problem. There's virtually no such fraud in American elections -- and it's not even remotely close to being the epidemic that some elected officials have made it out to be. In the 2004 election, for example, about 3 million votes were cast in Wisconsin -- only seven were declared invalid -- all of which were cast by felons who had finished their sentences and didn't realize they were still barred from voting. As a result, Wisconsin's overall fraud rate came in at a whopping 0.00023 percent.

The only kind of voter fraud that is supposed to be prevented by these laws is one voter impersonating another. Not only would impersonating other voters one-by-one be an absurd strategy for stealing an entire election, but the already-existing penalties -- five years in prison and a $10,000 fine -- are doing an effective job at preventing such fraud.

Yet, while these laws would prevent few if any actual cases of voter fraud, they could disenfranchise millions of ID-less voters. And they are clearly illegal under longstanding voting rights law. The Voting Rights Act not only forbids laws that are passed specifically to target minority voters but also strikes down state laws that have a greater impact on minority voters than on others. Because Voter ID laws disproportionately disenfranchise minorities, they clearly fit within the Voting Rights Act's prohibition.

Gaming the Electoral College

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett recently proposed changing the way his state allocates electoral votes in a presidential election. Should his proposal become law, it could alter the outcome in 2012 and significantly increase the possibility that a candidate who loses the popular vote in his state still receives more electoral votes overall.

fast facts on voter suppression

Although the Constitution permits each state legislature to decide how the winner of its electoral votes will be selected during a presidential election, all but two of the states follow the same process -- whoever wins the state as a whole receives all of that state's electoral votes. The two remaining states, Maine and Nebraska, allocate one electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district, plus two additional votes to the overall winner of the state. Because these are both very small states, however, their unusual process is unlikely to alter the outcome of presidential elections.

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