All over the United States, legal battles are fought in state capitols and courtrooms over the core democratic principle that is voting. Since 2011, at least 180 bills have been introduced in 41 states to, according to their sponsors, tighten vote security and fight voter fraud.
Voting rights activists fought back in court, using citizen initiatives and referenda to blunt or repeal the restrictive measures. The Department of Justice also blocked some. But, although evidences of voter fraud are scarce at best (see infographics below), for the 2012 elections, there are still 18 stricter voter ID laws and executive actions affecting 14 states amounting to 185 electoral votes.
- Photo ID laws: such introduced legislations would now require voters to show government-issued photo identification in order to vote.
- Proof of citizenship laws: such introduced legislation would now require proof of citizenship to register or vote.
- Make voter registration harder: these types of bills put an end to same-day voter registration, limit voter registration mobilization efforts and other registration opportunities.
- Reducing early voting period and absentee voting.
- Making it harder to restore voting rights: such introduced measures make it harder for citizens with past felony convictions to restore their voting rights. In South Dakota, one measure denies voting rights to persons on probation.
The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal nonprofit research center at the New York University Law School estimated that voting may be harder for up to 5,000,000 voters nationwide and that, out of the 14 states affected, five of them are hotly-contested battleground states (Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Virginia).
The push for stricter voter registration and identification laws takes various forms but remains politically charged as Republicans and Republican-led states lead the charge.
Richard L. Hansen, law professor at UC Irvine, declared in the New Yorker “the myth that Democratic voter fraud is common, and that it helps Democrats win elections, has become part of the Republican orthodoxy.” Last March Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee wrote, “Election fraud is a real and persistent threat to our electoral system.”
The voting rights legal battle is also racially tinged; most of the measures affect disproportionately minorities and lower-class voters. For instance, “11% of American citizens do not possess a government-issued photo ID; that is over 21 million citizens,” notes the Brennan Center for Justice, fearing disenfranchisement of a large block of the electorate.
Last September, historic African-American rights’ defender the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) even sent a delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland to bring the issue of voter rights in the United States.
“In the past year more states in this country have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than at any point since the dawn of Jim Crow,” NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said in a statement.
The bitter fight over voting rights seems to have made a first victim: the legitimacy of the election. “No matter the results of the election, I can guarantee one thing: the winner will be widely considered to be completely illegitimate by the losing side” notes Salon.com journalist Alex Pareene.