Are new voting laws necessary or discriminatory?
Sept. 7, 2011
By John Vettese, Student Voices staff writer
As the 2012 presidential campaign gains steam, a number of states have passed laws that proponents say will ensure a fair election next November.
However, critics worry that these laws do the exact opposite, and will prevent millions of eligible voters from casting their ballot – or make it burdensome for them to do so. In a year that experts predict will be filled with close elections, many worry those potentially excluded voters could mean the difference between a candidate winning and losing.
A study by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice reports:
The voter ID laws are the most controversial, since they have the potential to exclude or discourage voters. These laws require voters to show a government-issued photo ID to protect from fraud. If a state interprets “government ID” to mean a driver’s license, what does that mean for people who don’t own cars? Under Texas law, a student’s photo ID is not accepted at the polls – which some say puts a burden on young voters. Now, these ID laws generally provide a process for someone to obtain proper voting credentials, but critics worry that potential voters might not want to go through that process.
Five states, including Florida and Ohio, passed laws restricting early voting.
Maine passed a law barring voters from registering on Election Day.
New photo identification laws were debated in 34 states, and passed in Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois says the new laws “will make it harder for millions of disabled, young, minority, rural, elderly, homeless and low-income Americans to vote.” How many, exactly? An analysis of the Texas law shows that 605,576 voters could be excluded, the New York Times reports. In South Carolina, some 216,596 voters do not have the proper identification to abide by its voting law.
Those in favor of the new laws don’t think they will have a negative effect. They cite Georgia and Indiana as two states with voting laws considered “strict,” where voter turnout increased after the laws were passed.
Proponents say the new laws protect from fraud and make sure that voters are who they claim to be – and are eligible to vote. In some states, this came about in response to fears of illegal immigrants affecting the outcome of elections. In others, it’s meant to protect against impersonation.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told the Washington Post that his state’s law makes its elections among the safest in the nation. “When I was running for secretary of state, I said, ‘I think we could pass a law to make most forms of voter fraud nearly impossible.’”
However, voter fraud is already exceptionally rare. The South Carolina State Election Commission told the New York Times that it “knows of no confirmed cases of voter identification fraud, defined as a person presenting himself to vote as someone he is not.” In Kansas, there were 221 reports of voter fraud in 1997 and 2010 – a contrast to the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast.
Others say this shouldn’t matter. Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation told the Times: “There are enough proven cases in the past, throughout our history and recently, that show that you’ve got to take basic steps to prevent people from taking advantage of an election if they want to. Particularly close elections.”
But do basic steps go too far? Alabama Rep. Terri A. Sewell told the Times that her father is confined to a wheelchair and let his driver’s license lapse. In past elections, he was able to identify himself with his Social Security card – under his state’s law, it is no longer valid. Sewell said that Alabama does allow voters to obtain an acceptable ID before the election, and that “my mom will find a way to get my dad a photo ID,” but not everybody has the same capability.
“Given the relatively low turnout that we see in modern-day elections, we should be encouraging people to go to the polls to exercise their rights, and not discouraging them,” Sewell said.
These new laws are subject to the scrutiny of the U.S. Justice Department, which will make sure they do not violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 – a landmark law intended to outlaw discrimination at the polls. In 2008, the Supreme Court said that Indiana’s voter ID law was not a infringement of the law; the court found no evidence that fraud existed, but also found no evidence that the new law was burdensome for voters.
What do you think?
Are new voting laws protective or restrictive? Should voters be required to show IDs at the polls to prevent from fraud? Would that requirement discourage you from voting? Is it discriminatory? Is voter fraud a big enough problem that these laws are necessary? Does it matter if the problem is widespread or not? Join the discussion!
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