New Voting Restrictions Will Affect Five Million Voters in 2012

Note to Republican state legislatures: Taking away people's right to vote is a shameful way to win an election.

Remember when Sen. Mitch McConnell vowed to make Barack Obama a one-term president? Seems like Republican state legislatures across the country have the same goal. A new study by the Brennan Center for Justice finds that since 2008, 14 states (including five swing states) have passed 19 laws and two executive orders that restrict voting rights for their residents, the most dramatic rollbacks since Jim Crow. According to the study, more than five million voters and 171 electoral college votes will be affected. And most of them will be minority, poor, and younger voters, which traditionally vote Democratic.

In July, former president Bill Clinton charged that Republicans are trying hard to avoid the voting patterns of 2008, when a record number of minorities and young people voted in the presidential election. The voters whose numbers spiked in 2010—senior citizens, the wealthy, and white people—are the ones least affected by these new laws.

Among the restrictions are:

Photo ID laws. Dozens of states introduced legislation that would require voters to show photo identification in order to vote, and the bills were passed in seven states: Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. (For reference, only two states had imposed these restrictions before 2011.) Considering that 11 percent of American citizens don't have a government-issued photo ID (PDF), this is affects a huge chunk of the electorate.

Proof of citizenship laws. At least 12 states introduced legislation that would require proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate or passport, to register or vote, and these requirements were signed into law in Alabama, Kansas, and Tennessee.

Laws making voter registration more difficult. Maine passed a law eliminating Election Day registration, and the swing state of Ohio ended its weeklong period of same-day voter registration. Florida (another swing state) and Texas passed laws that help block voter registration drives, and Florida and Wisconsin passed laws making it more difficult for people who move to stay registered and vote.

Laws reducing early and absentee voting days. Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia succeeded in signing bills that reduce early voting. Four states tried to reduce absentee voting opportunities.

Laws making it harder to restore voting rights. Florida and Iowa reversed executive actions that made it easier for citizens with past felony convictions to restore their voting rights, effectively disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of citizens with past felony convictions.

Five million voters is a lot—more than the number who decided the 2004 and 2000 elections combined. Luckily, we know about these restrictions a year ahead of time. So start spreading the word. Draw attention to pending legislation in your state (PDF). And make it clear to your state officials that disenfranchising constituents is a shameful way to win an election.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Charleston's TheDigitel

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