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Voter ID Requirements: Is This A New Thing?

Voter disenfranchisement is as old as the many Jim Crow laws that systematically excluded freed slaves from participating in the electoral process. Many southern and northern white legislators were afraid that if the freed slaves would vote, there would be a power shift in this country that would take away their ability to control and contain the black populous. Voting at this time was thought of as a white privilege, and blacks were viewed as not having the mental capacity to think or vote for themselves. For hundred of years many new laws were continued to disenfranchise voters were enacted, such as Poll Taxes and Literacy Test all in the attempt to suppress the democratic right to vote as a citizen of the United States. After the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1964 there was a attempt to remove many of the barriers that systematically removed voter suppression.
According to the Brennan Center of Justice, State governments across the country enacted an array of new laws making it harder to register or to vote. Some states require voters to show government-issued photo identification, often of a type that as many as one in ten voters do not have. Other states have cut back on early voting, a hugely popular innovation used by millions of Americans. Two states reversed earlier reforms and once again disenfranchised millions who have past criminal convictions but who are now taxpaying members of the community. Still others made it much more difficult for citizens to register to vote, a prerequisite for voting.
These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities. This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election. Based on the Brennan Center’s analysis of the 19 laws and two executive actions that passed in 14 states, it is clear that:
• These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to
cast ballots in 2012.1
• The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012– 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
• Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions. 2 States have changed their laws so rapidly that no single analysis has assessed the overall impact of such moves. Although it is too early to quantify how the changes will impact voter turnout, they will be a hindrance to many voters at a time when the United States continues to turn out less than two thirds of its eligible citizens in presidential elections and less than half in midterm elections.

 

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