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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.