Since the beginning of 2011, lawmakers around the country abruptly enacted laws to curb voting rights and tighten registration rules. These measures are fiercely controversial. But lately the debate has taken a surprising turn. Suppressive voting laws have met resistance at the polls and in the courts. This surprisingly emphatic twist is good for our democracy. If the restriction of voting rights can be blocked or blunted, it will give us an opportunity to move forward with bipartisan reforms to our ramshackle registration system. Consider the recent backlash.
In Maine, voters reversed a new law, passed in June 2011, that ended same-day registration. Now voters will be able to register on Election Day in 2012. In Ohio, more than 300,000 citizens signed petitions, enough to temporarily suspend the state’s new law that curbed early voting and force a statewide referendum in November. Now nervous Republicans are close to a deal with Democrats that would repeal the law and restore early voting for the three days before the election. Florida, meanwhile, imposed onerous penalties and paperwork burdens on volunteers who sign up voters. Helping your neighbors participate in our democracy is not something we should restrict, which is why the Brennan Center is leading the fight to challenge this law. We represent the League of Women Voters, Rock the Vote, and other civic groups that have shut down registration drives. The league has won similar lawsuits twice before and now awaits a judge’s ruling, which is expected soon. Even on the contentious issue of requiring government-issued photo identification to vote, the strictest new laws have slammed into legal barriers.
In March a state judge struck down Wisconsin’s new law, which required showing a government-issued photo ID with a current address to vote, on the grounds that it violated the state’s Constitution. In Missouri, a judge blocked a ballot measure to pass a similar law. This month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down an Arizona law that required voters to show proof of citizenship when registering.
Other states have run afoul of the federal Voting Rights Act. The Justice Department must “pre-clear” laws in South Carolina and Texas, and has refused to do so. Both states have already admitted that hundreds of thousands of voters lack the necessary documents required by new voter ID laws — and minority voters would be most affected. “Even using the data most favorable to the state, Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card,” wrote Thomas Perez, a Justice Department official, in a letter denying pre-clearance.
Full Article: Between Voting Rights and Voting Wrongs – NYTimes.com.