Emboldened by the Supreme Court decision that struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act, a growing number of Republican-led states are moving aggressively to tighten voting rules. Lawsuits by the Obama administration and voting rights activists say those efforts disproportionately affect minorities. At least five Southern states, no longer required to ask Washington’s permission before changing election procedures, are adopting strict voter identification laws or toughening existing requirements. Texas officials are battling the U.S. Justice Department to put in place a voter ID law that a federal court has ruled was discriminatory. In North Carolina, the GOP-controlled Legislature scaled back early voting and ended a pre-registration program for high school students nearing voting age. Nowhere is the debate more heated than in Florida, where the chaotic recount in the disputed 2000 presidential race took place.
Florida election officials are set to resume an effort to remove noncitizens from the state’s voting rolls. A purge last year ended in embarrassment after hundreds of American citizens, most of whom were black or Hispanic, were asked to prove their citizenship or risk losing their right to vote.
Republican leaders across the South say the new measures are needed to prevent voter fraud, even though such crimes are rare. Democrats and civil rights groups say the changes are political attacks aimed at minorities and students — voting groups that tend to lean toward Democrats — in states with legacies of poll taxes and literacy tests.
In North Carolina, for example, a state board of elections survey found that more than 600,000 registered voters did not have a state-issued ID, a requirement to vote under the state’s new law. Many of those voters are young, black, poor or elderly.