State legislatures across the country have passed a record number of laws this year requiring photo identification to vote, a controversial move pushed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats.
Proponents say the measures prevent vote fraud. Opponents say they are designed to stifle turnout among students, poor people and minorities, who are more likely to vote for Democrats but might lack government-issued IDs, such as driver’s licenses and passports.
Buoyed by big Republican gains in the 2010 elections, six states have enacted photo ID laws since January — Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Bills in New Hampshire and North Carolina await gubernatorial action.
The measures, all passed by Republican-controlled legislatures, could bring to 17 the number of states with photo ID requirements and come nearly 18 months before elections for Congress and the White House. Other states — including Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia— have reduced the period for early voting.
In Florida, a key battleground state, a law signed last month by Republican Gov. Rick Scott also restricts efforts to register new voters by groups such as the League of Women Voters.
“It’s remarkable,” Jennie Bowser, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said of the proliferation of new laws. In all, 33 states have considered new voter ID laws this year. “I very rarely see one single issue come up in so many state legislatures in a single session,” she said. “This issue has historically fallen along stark partisan lines. Democrats tend to oppose voter ID, and Republicans tend to favor it. This year, there are a lot of new Republican majorities in legislatures.”
Republicans now control both legislative chambers in 26 states, up from 14 in 2010.
David Axelrod, a top strategist in President Obama’s re-election campaign, called the wave of new legislation a “calculated strategy” by Republicans to “hold down voter turnout.”
“I find it ironic at a time when all over the world people are struggling, marching, even dying, for the right to vote and cast meaningful votes that anybody in this country would be working to limit the franchise,” Axelrod told USA TODAY.
He said the campaign would “organize vigorously” to make voters aware of the new requirements.
“This is the most significant assault on voting rights that we have seen in a long time,” said Wendy Weiser of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, which opposes the new rules.
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