Liberal and conservative groups are mobilizing armies of poll watchers to battle over the enforcement of voter ID laws on Election Day. The Democratic Party has more to lose if turnout is low on Nov. 4. Liberals want to ensure that the young, black and Latino voters who form a key part of the party’s electoral base are not kept from the polls. Conservatives insist that they just want to uphold the integrity of the electoral process by making sure that all votes cast are legitimate. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has state directors stationed across the country for its Voter Expansion Project. They help train poll workers, and work with local election officials to clarify how laws will be implemented. “This has been a really big effort,” DNC spokesman Michael Czin said.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, most notably the requirement that states with a history of voter suppression obtain federal permission to change their voting laws. Those states are in the South. The road to restore that act runs through Wisconsin. “I am committed to restoring the Voting Rights Act,” U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., said in August, surprising attendees at a GOP luncheon commemorating the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Though they didn’t lose their lunch, party members — whose colleagues in some states had already moved to enact strict voter restrictions — weren’t expecting that announcement. An RNC spokesman told me then that Sensenbrenner wasn’t speaking for the party. Members of the other party didn’t all jump on the bandwagon, either. A spokesman for Democratic Minnesota Rep. Rick Nolan said then that Nolan would support the idea — adding an asterisk: “assuming it’s straightforward.”
Republicans moved a step forward Tuesday in their continuing effort to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission, which was created to help states run elections. A House committee approved legislation Tuesday to shut down the federal commission set up more than 10 years ago to help states improve their election systems. “This agency needs to go,” said Mississippi Republican Rep. Gregg Harper, who introduced the bill to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission. “This agency has outlived its usefulness and to continue to fund it is the definition of irresponsibility.” The House Administration Committee approved the legislation by voice vote. This marks Harper’s third attempt in four years to close the bipartisan independent commission, which he called a “bloated bureaucracy.” It is not clear when the full House will vote on the measure. Harper said he’s working to persuade a senator to introduce a companion measure in that chamber.
On the Sunday before the 2008 presidential election, church goers in Florida streamed from the pews to early voting places to cast their ballots. The so-called Souls to the Polls campaigns were a windfall for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama and the Democrats. According to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, more than 32 percent of those who voted early on that last Sunday before Election Day were African American, and nearly 24 percent were Latino. Moreover, according to a report released by the Florida State Senate, 52 percent of people who voted early in the 2008 election were registered Democrats.
“Preachers would preach a great sermon and then march to the polls with their congregations,” said Hilary Shelton, senior vice president for advocacy and policy at the NAACP.
But voting laws passed in Florida last year have limited early voting, including on the Sunday before Election Day. Opponents say the early voting limitations are part of a broader effort by Republican-led legislatures across the country to suppress the black, minority and elderly voting blocs, groups expected to be key to President Obama’s bid for reelection in 2012. The efforts include new voting laws passed in more than a dozen states, some requiring government-issued identification to vote and others limiting third-party voter registration drives.
Even as the feds move to block South Carolina from requiring voters to show a photo ID, a handful of other states are set to ring in 2012 with new laws mandating that voters produce picture identification cards before they are permitted to cast ballots. Beginning on Jan. 1, new laws will take effect in Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas requiring residents present a certified government-issued ID if they want to vote, according to a list of new 2012 laws compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Civil rights groups like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which co-authored an extensive report earlier this month detailing 25 voter restriction measures that passed in 2011 – eight of which were photo ID laws — say the measures represent a coordinated conservative effort to repress the voting rights of minority groups.
“Many surprises came out of the 2008 elections, including record turnout, registration and participation,” said Hilary Shelton, NAACP’s Washington bureau director, who called the number of voter laws that passed last year “unprecedented.”
It’s not a state secret that Democrats want desperately to regain control of the House in 2012, or that both they and President Obama will need every single vote they can get. But Republicans controlling several state legislatures are doing all they can to make the Democrats’ mission as difficult as possible by implementing strict new voter laws that opponents predict coulddisenfranchise millions of voters.
Rep. John Conyers, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, held a hearing on voting rights and new laws Monday during which civil rights advocates testified about their impact on African-Americans and other voters.
More states will require voters to show photo identification at the polls next year, as part of a wave of laws that will increase scrutiny of voters in next year’s elections. Stricter voter-ID measures are moving forward in at least half a dozen states after Republicans gained control of many statehouses and governors’ mansions in…