Updated March 04, 2012
New state laws dealing with the right to vote enacted since the 2008 election may cause more than 5 million eligible voters to find it significantly harder or even impossible to cast ballots in 2010, according to a new report from the non-partisan Brennan Center for Justice.
As is often the case with laws dealing with voter registration and qualifications, the 19 new laws and two executive actions enacted in 14 states this year will most affect minority, poor and young voters.
Also See: Laws Protecting the Right to Vote
"This is the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades. More voters may be affected than the margin of victory in two out of the past three presidential elections," said Michael Waldman, the Center's executive director in a press release. "In 2012 we should make it easier for every eligible citizen to vote. Instead, we have made it far harder for too many. Partisans should not try to tilt the electoral playing field in this way."
Impact on the 2012 Presidential Election
According to the Brennan Center's report, Voting Law Changes in 2012, the most significant impact of the new state voting laws will be on the 2012 presidential election.
The fourteen states that have already enacted laws limiting voting rights control 171 Electoral College votes in 2012, or 63% of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the presidency.
Among the twelve states identified as key or "battleground" states in a Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already passed laws limiting voting rights and are considering others, and legislatures in two other key states are considering such laws.
Note: The twelve 2012 presidential election battleground states identified by the Los Angeles Times and the number of Electoral College votes they control are: Florida (29), Ohio (18), Pennsylvania (20), Iowa (6), Virginia (13), North Carolina (15), Georgia (16), Oregon (7), Nevada (6), Arizona (11), New Mexico (5) and Colorado (9).
Also See: Electoral College Votes for Each State in 2012
What the New Laws Do
Most of the changes in the new state voting laws adopted since the 2008 election focus on voter identification, voter registration and absentee voting. Here are some highlights from Voting Law Changes in 2012:
Photo ID Laws:According to Wendy R. Weiser, co-author of Voting Law Changes in 2011 and Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, the changes to the voting laws enacted since 2008 were unnecessary and often radical. "They especially hurt those who have been historically locked out of our electoral system, like minorities, poor people, and students." She said. "Often they seem precisely targeted to exclude certain voters. After the Florida election fiasco in 2000, it became clear that the rules of election administration could affect outcomes. This time, those rules are being altered in a way that will likely hurt millions."
At the end of 2010, only two states strictly enforced laws requiring voters to show some form of photo identification in order to vote. In 2011, at least 34 states considered bills requiring photo identification as requirement for voting or registering to vote, and bills requiring government-issued photo ID became law in seven states: Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. According to the Brennan Center, 11% of Americans - over 21 million - do not have a government-issued photo ID.
Proof of US Citizenship Laws:
During 2011, at least 12 states introduced bills requiring proof of U.S. citizenship, such as a birth certificate, in order to register to vote. Three states, Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee enacted proof of citizenship laws. Before 2011, only Arizona and Georgia required proof of citizenship. In these laws, documents acceptable as proof of citizenship include, "any driver's or non-driver's ID that includes a notation that the person submitted proof of U.S. citizenship, a U.S. birth certificate, a U.S. passport or U.S. naturalization documents, certain tribal IDs, and other rare documents."
Also See: The U.S. Citizenship Test Questions
Voter Registration Laws:
Bills that would end Election Day and same-day voter registration, or otherwise limit voter registration efforts were introduced in 13 states during the 2011 legislative period. Maine passed a law eliminating Election Day registration, and Ohio ended its weeklong period of same-day voter registration. Florida and Texas passed laws restricting voter registration drives, and Florida and Wisconsin passed laws making it more difficult for people who move to retain their status as registered voters.
According to the Brennan Center, Election Day registration (EDR) has existed in some states for nearly 40 years and is credited by voting rights advocates as contributing to higher voter turnout in those states. "States with EDR have consistently had higher turnout than states without, and the top five states for voter turnout in 2008 were all EDR states," notes the report.
Also See: How to Report Voting Rights Problems or Violations
"Voting rights advocates point to increased voter registration rates, especially among minority, low income, and younger citizens, as a positive effect of voter registration drives and a reason to expand them," noted the Brennan Center report. "They also cite recent falling voter registration rates as a reason to encourage voter registration drives."
Absentee and Early Voting Laws:
In 2008, more than a third of all U.S. voters took advantage of the convenience of early voting. Yet, during 2011, at least nine states considered bills reducing their early voting periods, and four other states considered laws reducing absentee voting opportunities. Bills reducing early voting periods were enacted in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia. According to the Brennan Center, reasons most often cited by the state legislatures for cutting back on early voting were, "cost and administrative burden, though they sometimes also included arguments that the restrictions would reduce fraud."