A legendary Tennessee lawyer whose push for voting rights dated back to the civil rights movement died last summer, not long before a new federal report found evidence that he might have had a point about that state’s voter identification law. Now many of those who worked closely with him say they intend to keep the cause alive. George Barrett died in August, two months before a new report by the Government Accountability Office found that states — including Tennessee — which toughened their voter ID laws saw steeper drops in election turnout than those that did not. While there were few reports of voting problems in Tennessee following the Nov. 4 general election, voter advocates say the report justifies the need to examine the effects of the voter ID law in Tennessee, one of 33 states to enact laws obligating voters to show a photo ID at the polls. In doing so they hope to rekindle the efforts of Barrett, a one-man crusader whose courtroom advocacy dated back to the lunch-counter sit-ins of the early 1960s, when it was rare for a white attorney to take up the cause of black college students.
Almost all polling places had an accessible voting system during the 2008 elections, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). That’s the good news. The bad news: At nearly half of the polling places with an accessible voting system, voters with disabilities still faced barriers to voting independently and privately. For example, some accessible voting systems were set up at voting stations inaccessible to wheelchairs; others lacked headsets for blind and visually impaired voters to hear the audio; and some accessible voting systems were on site but not placed into use.
Two members of Congress have asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate why voters in Virginia and Florida had to wait hours in line to cast their ballots on Election Day 2012. Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Gerry Connolly of Virginia, both Democrats, made the request in a letter to the government’s investigative arm.
“… we request that GAO conduct a study of the underlying causes contributing to long lines on Election Day, including evaluating laws that impact voting rights and election administration. This study will help inform both federal and state policymakers about the types of reforms that will most effectively reduce long waiting times and ensure that all Americans obtain equal access to the ballot box.”