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Study: New Voting Restrictions May Affect More than Five Million

New voting laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012, according to the first comprehensive study of the laws’ impact.

October 4, 2011



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New York – New voting laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012, according to the first comprehensive study of the laws’ impact.

Widespread voting cutbacks could have a significant electoral impact in next year’s hard-fought races, the study concludes. Minorities, poor and young voters will likely be most affected.

“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 diector. “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.”

Voting Law Changes in 2012 analyzes the 19 laws and two executive actions that passed in fourteen states this year, as well as more than 100 bills that were introduced but did not pass (some may still pass). The study shows, among other things:

  • 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 battleground states identified 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 cutbacks.

Among the changes in 2011:

  • Photo ID laws. At least 34 states introduced legislation that would require voters to show photo identification in order to vote. Photo ID bills were signed into law in seven states: Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. By contrast, before the 2011 legislative session, only two states had ever imposed strict photo ID requirements. The number of states with laws requiring voters to show government-issued photo identification has quadrupled in 2011. Eleven percent of American citizens do not possess a government-issued photo ID; that is over 21 million citizens.
  • Proof of Citizenship laws. At least 12 states introduced legislation that would require proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate, to register or vote. Proof of citizenship laws passed in Alabama, Kansas, and Tennessee. Previously, only two states had passed proof of citizenship laws, and only one had put such a requirement in effect. The number of states with such a requirement has more than doubled. 
  • Laws making voter registration harder. At least 13 states introduced bills to end highly popular Election Day and same-day voter registration, limit voter registration efforts, and reduce other registration opportunities. 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 stay registered and vote.
  • Laws reducing early and absentee voting days. At least nine states introduced bills to reduce their early voting periods, and four tried to reduce absentee voting opportunities. Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and West Virginia enacted bills to reduce early voting.
  • Laws making it harder to restore voting rights. Two states—Florida and Iowa—reversed prior executive actions that made it easier for citizens with past felony convictions to restore their voting rights, affecting hundreds of thousands. In effect, both states now permanently disenfranchise most citizens with past felony convictions.

“These voting law changes are radical and completely unnecessary. They especially hurt those who have been historically locked out of our electoral system, like minorities, poor people, and students. Often they seem precisely targeted to exclude certain voters,” said Wendy. R. Weiser, report co-author and Director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “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.”

“Significantly, these voting law cutbacks extend well beyond the most visible and controversial step to require government-issued photo ID that many citizens don’t have,” said report co-author Lawrence Norden, deputy director of the Democracy Program and former Chair of the Ohio Secretary of State’s bipartisan Election Summit and Conference. “An array of technical moves can add to significant barriers to the ballot. And it comes at a time when experience has taught us there are many ways to improve the voting process and expand access to the franchise while reducing costs.”

Proponents of these laws assert they are needed to combat voter fraud. An earlier Brennan Center study, The Truth About Voter Fraud, showed that such in-person voter impersonation is exceedingly rare. “You are more likely to be struck by lightening than to commit in-person voter fraud,” Waldman noted.

You can read a breakdown of the estimate of 5 million voters impacted here.

You can read more about how 11 percent of American citizens, or over 21 million citizens, do not possess a government-issued photo ID in Citizens Without Proof, another earlier Brennan Center publication.