GOP Moves to Tighten Vote Rules in 13 States

Sunday, 29 May 2011 05:37 PM

By Hiram Reisner

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Seeking to preserve the integrity of the election process, GOP-controlled statehouses nationwide are stiffening voting laws with changes that include requiring valid photo identification, restricting early voting, and imposing stricter rules on those who can register to vote.

Republicans in 13 states — where changes have either been passed or introduced in the past two months — say they are trying to ensure voters are qualified; Democrats counter the moves are 2012 Elections, Voter Identificationpolitically based and aimed at weeding out young and minority voters — many of whom comprise the party’s base, The New York Times reports.

Last week, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Gov. Rick Perry of Texas joined Kansas and South Carolina, and signed laws that would require valid photo identification before a voter could cast a ballot. Twelve states now require photo identification to vote, the Times says.

Gov. Rick Scott in Florida signed a bill this month to tighten restrictions on third-party voter registration organizations and to shorten the number of early voting days. The battleground states of Ohio and Pennsylvania are among those considering voter-identification bills.

“If you have to show a picture ID to buy Sudafed, if you have to show a picture ID to get on an airplane, you should show a picture ID when you vote,” Gov. Nikki Haley said this month when she signed the South Carolina law, the Times says.

Democrats say there is little proof of voter-impersonation fraud, that the GOP-led laws ring of racism, and target those who tend to vote Democrat, according to the Times.

Democrats also point to state figures showing there are few proven cases of voter impersonation and question why Republicans would want to spend taxpayer dollars on an insignificant problem, considering states’ fiscal problems, the Times says.

“There is not one documented case that has been presented to us, and we had numerous hearings,” said Democratic South Carolina state Sen. Brad Hutto. “Republicans have to have some reason to do this because it doesn’t sound good to say, ‘We don’t want Latinos or African-Americans voting.’ ”

State Republicans have long attempted to legislate photo identification requirements and other changes, said Daniel Tokaji, a law professor at Ohio State University and an expert in election law. Previous bills were largely derailed after the Bush administration fired several United States attorneys whom Republicans had criticized for failing to aggressively investigate voter fraud, according to the Times.

“That’s what really killed the momentum of more states’ enacting voter ID laws,” Tokaji said. “Now with the last elections, with the strong Republican majorities in a lot of states, we’re seeing a rejuvenation of the effort.”

Republicans say increased immigration nationwide has spearheaded the push to makes sure elections are legitimate, according to the Times.

“Over the last 20 years, we have seen Florida grow quite rapidly, and we have such a mix of populations,” said state Rep. Dennis K. Baxley, the Florida Republican who wrote the law to tighten third-party registration in his state. “When we fail to protect every ballot, we disenfranchise people who participate legitimately.”

The changes are likely to have an impact on close elections, Tokaji said.

“Remarkably, most of these significant changes are going under the radar,” he added. “A lot of voters are going to be surprised and dismayed when they go to their polling place and find that the rules have changed.”

Most of the measures would require people to show a form of official, valid identification to vote. While driver’s licenses are the most common form, voters can also request free photo IDs from the Department of Motor Vehicles or use a passport or military identification, among other things.

But Democrats say the extra step will discourage voters who will have to pay to retrieve documents, like birth certificates, for proof to obtain a free card, the Times reports.

A few state bills and laws also reduce the number of early voting days, which Democrats also oppose. In the 2008 presidential election, a majority of those who cast early votes did so for President Barack Obama. In Florida, the number of days is reduced but the number of hours remains the same.

In Georgia, where photo IDs became a requirement in 2007, minorities voted in record numbers in 2008 and 2010.

Turnout among Hispanic voters jumped 140 percent in the state in 2008 and 42 percent among blacks compared with 2004, a change attributed in part to Obama’s candidacy. In the midterm election two years later, turnout also rose among Hispanics and African-Americans, according to data from the Georgia secretary of state.

But the presidential elections in 18 months, Democrats are taking their own offensive. The Democratic Governors Association started a Voter Protection Project this month to educate voters and encourage them to speak out against the measures. It also began running online advertisements.

The following is a list of some state voting changes either enacted or under consideration:

  • Wisconsin – A valid photo identification is needed before a voter could cast a ballot.
  • Florida – Restrictions tightened on third-party voter registration organizations and the number of early voting days has been shortened. Florida already requires photo identification.
  • South Carolina – A valid photo identification is needed before a voter could cast a ballot.
  • Texas – A valid photo identification is needed before a voter could cast a ballot.
  • Kansas – A valid photo identification is needed before a voter could cast a ballot.
  • Ohio – Legislature considering voter-identification bill.
  • Pennsylvania – Legislature considering voter-identification bill.

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