Voter ID Laws a New Low

Article excerpt

Buying the election is one part of the Republican strategy to put Mitt Romney in the White House. The other part is to deter people from voting at all. One key tactic in this approach is to limit who can vote. The most common type of restrictions are the new voter ID laws that have cropped up across the country since the 2010 midterm elections, when twenty state legislative chambers flipped from Democrat to Republican.

Republicans now control more state legislative chambers than at any time since 1952, and this level allowed for the frenzy of restrictive voter laws. Except for Rhode Island, all voter ID bills were introduced by Republican-majority legislatures.

Voter ID is just one example of the myriad ways the GOP has tried to limit access to voting. Other efforts include making registration difficult, shortening pre-Election Day voting, purging voters from lists, and reducing the hours polling places are open.

Requiring people to show a specific form of government-issued ID doesn't seem burdensome at first glance. Advocates of these strict laws say that it's not a big deal.

"I'm a big supporter of voter ID. I mean, you need an ID to, you know, fly on an airplane. It's not an onerous requirement," Senator Ron Johnson, Republican from Wisconsin, told Democracy Now at the Republican National Convention. "Almost, I think, all of those states, if you don't have an ID, they'll provide one to you for free."

But a report released by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law belies Johnson's assertion. "The Challenge of Obtaining Voter Identification" is the first comprehensive assessment of the difficulties that eligible voters face in obtaining free photo ID.

"The problem is not requiring voter ID, per se--the problem is requiring ID that many voters simply do not have," the report states. "Study after study confirms that 1 in 10 eligible voters lack these specific government documents."

Ten states have passed unprecedented voter ID laws: Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.

The Brennan report makes clear what's actually at stake: "This November, restrictive voter ID states will provide 127 electoral votes--nearly half of the 270 needed to win the Presidency."

Let's look at Senator Johnson's Wisconsin. The Brennan Center report notes that 11 percent of eligible voters who lack the required photo ID must travel to a designated government office to obtain one. And it singles out Sauk City, Wisconsin, as an example of the challenges faced by voters: "Many ID-issuing offices maintain limited business hours. For example, the office in Sauk City, Wisconsin, is open only on the fifth Wednesday of any month. But only four months in 2012--February, May, August, and October--have five Wednesdays."

That's just one example of how ludicrous it can be. And for those rural Wisconsin voters--30 percent of the state's voting age citizens--who need to travel more than ten miles to their nearest state ID-issuing office open more than two days a week? Good luck getting there. Most likely these voters don't have a driver's license (hence the need for photo ID) and may have to rely upon spotty or nonexistent public transportation. (In fact, the states that passed these draconian photo ID laws are among the stingiest investors in public transportation.)

Moreover, according to a new report from the Advancement Project, a nonpartisan civil-rights organization, minorities are more likely not to have photo ID. In Wisconsin, 57 percent of Latino and 78 percent of African American young men lacked driver's licenses, compared to 36 percent of young white men.

Wisconsin, though, is a state where a strict voter ID law proved to be an unsuccessful venture. …