News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

GOP Voter Suppression ID Laws May Affect Millions of Legal Voters

The Brennan Center's report doubles its estimated impact from last fall as 2012 voting rights litigation heats up.

Stricter new voter ID laws passed by GOP-controlled legislatures have the potential to affect millions of voters in 10 states this fall, including large numbers in the presidential swing states of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to a new report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School.

The voters most likely to be affected are half-a-million low-income people who don't have a car or easy access to state offices to obtain the "alternative forms of ID" these new voter suppression laws say would allow otherwise eligible voters to get a ballot. Moreover, 10 million eligible voters--including many African Americans and Latinos--live more than 10 miles from these offices, which in some states are open only several days a month.

"Ten states now have unprecedented restrictive voter ID laws," the report's executive summary began. "Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin all require citizens to produce specific types of government-issued photo identification before they can cast a vote that will count. Legal precedent requires these states to provide free photo ID to eligible voters who do not have one."

The Brennan Center’s new report doubles the number of voters that could be affected. Last fall, when it reported on the likely impact of voting law changes in 2012, it said that upwards of 5 million otherwise eligible legal voters could be prevented from voting by the new laws passed by GOP-controlled states.

“This November, restrictive voter ID states will provide 127 electoral votes — nearly half of the 270 needed to win the presidency,” its newer report said. “Therefore, the ability of eligible citizens without photo ID to obtain one could have a major influence on the outcome of the 2012 election."

Republican voter suppression tactics have been a steadily growing feature in recent presidential campaigns—and have become so blatant in 2012 that even political moderates, such as the American Enterprise Institute’s Norman Ornstein has concluded that, “It is time for a Voting Rights Act of 2012, a new federal law to make federal elections free and fair, with the goal of enhancing the ability of eligible voters to vote, not the opposite.”

The Brennan Center’s 10-million voter figure is no doubt alarming, but it also includes states that are firmly in the red column when it comes to the 2012 presidential election. For example, nobody expects Kansas to elect new Democrats to federal office. On the other hand, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Web site lists 10 competitive House races in the voter ID states in the Brennan Center report. And leading Democratic pollsters list an additional half-dozen House seats up for grabs in these 10 states, underscoring that the GOP’s voter suppression strategy is all about retaining power.  

It is also important to note that in a handful of these harsh voter ID states, legal action--either initiated by voting rights groups, Democratic party affiliates, or the Justice Department--has resulted in courts temporarily blocking the ID laws from taking effect before November. Wisconsin is one such example, where a state court again blocked a draconian ID law from taking effect, although that ruling is all but certain to be appealed. 

"The [Wisconsin] court found no evidence in the record presented of impersonation voter fraud which would support an ID requirement," wrote Rick Hasen, an election law professor and influential blogger explaining that ruling and highlighting the same issues as in the Brennan Center report.

"The court found credible cases of people who would have difficulty getting voter ID under the Wisconsin law, which the court called the strictest in the nation," Hasen said. "What is not clear is how many people would have the difficulty getting the ID and whether the Wisconsin Supreme Court, when it gets the eventual appeal in this case, will decide that the class of people facing such general difficulties could bring an as-applied challenge to the law."