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Information Ahead of Senate Hearing on State Voting Legislation Threatening Voting Rights in 2011

Ahead of Sen. Durbin’s hearing today on new state voting laws and possible threats to voting rights and voter turnout nationwide, the Brennan Center provides background information to help put the hearing in context, including a summary of the legislation passed so far, and useful links to deeper analysis.

September 8, 2011

Ahead of Sen. Durbin’s hearing today on new state voting laws and possible threats to voting rights and voter turnout nationwide, we hope to provide members of the press with background information to help put in context what will be said at today’s hearing and in the submitted written testimony.

A fuller Brennan Center report on the legislative action affecting voting rights in 2011 will be released later this month, and as always, our experts on voting rights are happy to add insight and expert comment for your coverage. Please contact Andrew Goldston (646–292–8372) or Jeanine Plant-Chirlin (646–292–8322) if you would like to receive an advance copy of the text of the report, or if you would like to speak to an expert with the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Project.

Important Information Ahead of Today’s Hearing

  • Wave of State Legislation – for a fuller account of the bills introduced in 2011 affecting voting rights, see further below for links to our full legislative round-up and our details on the voter ID bills that have been passed so far.

    • Voter ID Legislation

      • New photo ID bills have been signed into law in seven (7) states: Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.

      • Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, Alabama, South Carolina and Texas need to obtain preclearance of their new voter ID laws from the U.S. Department of Justice or a three-judge court before implementation.

      • Governors in Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina vetoed photo ID bills that passed the legislatures.

    • Legislation Affecting Voter Registration Drives

      • At least three (3) states have passed laws putting new restrictions on voter registration drives: Florida, Nevada, and Texas.

      • The Florida bill is extremely onerous and is described in significant part here.

        • Due to five of its counties being protected under the Voting Rights Act Section 5, the law is subject to preclearance.

        • Florida filed for preclearance with the Department of Justice where parts of the bill were precleared, and parts of the bill were withdrawn and filed in a D.C. District Court instead, to be heard in front of a three judge panel.

    • Early Voting Restrictions and RollbacksAt least five (5) states have passed bills to reduce their early voting periods: Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio, and West Virginia.

    • Raising Barriers to Voter RegistrationAt least four (4) states have passed bills to raise barriers to voter registration.

      • Florida ended a policy that allowed voters who moved between counties in Florida to register their change of address on Election Day and still vote normally.

      • Maine passed a bill eliminating Election Day voter registration, although there is a “citizens’ veto” campaign underway to undo this change in Maine.

      • Ohio passed an omnibus bill that, among other things, eliminated a “same day registration” week during its early voting period, though as in Maine a campaign to put this bill to a referendum may block its implementation in 2012.

  • Millions Without IDs – A 2006 national survey conducted by a major opinion research firm and commissioned by the Brennan Center found that as many as 11% of voting-age adults – millions of Americans – did not have a current and valid government-issued photo ID. This is a troubling statistic for advocates of strict photo ID policies. During the verbal testimony, Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation may repeat some claims posted recently on the Heritage web site to cast doubt on this statistic. Our response to Mr. von Spakovsky’s criticisms can be found here. We stand by the study, the reasults of which have been repeatedly confirmed by subsequent studies.

Below are some additional materials to assist in covering the hearing, including publications with facts and analysis, legal documents produced as part of our advocacy on these issues, and selected blog posts addressing specific arguments that have been made by advocates for some of these restrictive policies.

Brennan Center Publications

  1. 2011 Legislative Round Up —
     —Our most recent accounting of state legislation and executive actions affecting voting rights, introduced or undertaken in 2011.

  2. Summary and Descriptions of the Voter ID Laws Passed in 2011 (Brennan Center 2011) – 

  3. The Truth About Voter Fraud —On closer examination, many of the claims of voter fraud amount to a great deal of smoke without much fire.

  4. The Cost of Voter ID Laws: What the Courts Say —This report provides an analysis of recent federal law and jurisprudence on voting rights and specifically voter ID laws, aimed at assessing the costs governments will need to assume to implement restrictive voter ID laws while complying with established law and court decisions.

Legal Documents

  1. Joint letter submitted by the Brennan Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the League of Women Voters of Florida, and Democracia USA to the U.S. Department of Justice regarding Florida’s submission of HB 1355 for preclearance. The letter demonstrates how the Florida law would disenfranchise many Sunshine State voters and disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters. U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) cited this letter in a recent New York Times op-ed on the wave of state legislation affecting voting rights.

  2. Joint letter submitted by the ACLU, the Brennan Center, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law to the U.S. Department of Justice regarding South Carolina’s submission of its photo ID law, Act R54, for preclearance. The letter demonstrates how the South Carolina law would disproportionately disenfranchise minority voters.

Selected Blog Posts

The following blogs provide detailed responses (including by using studies and statistical analyses) to some of the claims and allegations made by supporters of restrictive voter ID laws.

  1. Voter ID Supporters Need Statistics 101 —Some claim that since overall turnout in Georgia increased in 2008 (after implementation of Georgia’s voter ID law) relative to 2004, voter ID does not decrease turnout. Brennan Center fellow Sundeep Iyer explains the statistics and walks through why this doesn’t make sense.

  2. Doubling Down on Dubious Claims of Voter Fraud — We explain why calling on law enforcement to investigate “possible voter fraud” based solely on discrepancies in voter registration lists that may be attributable to clerical errors or pure statistical coincidence is unwise, irresponsible, and borders on fear mongering.

  3. Debunking Misinformation on Photo ID—We debunk five claims from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a major proponent of voter ID laws, that either simply aren’t true or just don’t make sense.

  4. Smoke and Mirrors: Alleged Non-Citizen Voting in NM and CO —More on the danger of drawing conclusions about supposedly “fraudulent” or “illegal” registrations found in voter registration lists without having an unambiguous understanding of the accuracy of the data.