The Democratic National Committee (DNC) has unveiled a campaign to help voters surmount restrictive state voting laws that have been enacted by Republican legislatures across the country.
The announcement accompanied the release of a paper by the DNC's Voting Rights Institute that detailed what it refered to an assault on voting rights. The report described a flurry of new laws that include measures to eliminate early voting, tightened restrictions on voter registration and mandating specific government-issued identification that many voters lack. Such changes disproportionately affect groups such as young voters, minorities and immigrants that are the traditional constituency of Democrats.
Their primary aim is to ensure their reelection-at the expense of the voting rights of eligible Americans, particularly persons of limited means, minorities, young people, and our seniors, the report's authors wrote. For decades, our laws have sought to expand access to the franchise; today, Republicans seek to reverse this progress.
U.S. Voting Rights Restrictions: Combating Fraud or Depressing Democratic Vote?
Most of the lawmakers or public officials pushing new voting laws have maintained they were trying to combat widespread fraud at the polls, but the report dismissed those claims as fundamentally and demonstrably false -- for instance, a U.S. Department of Justice investigation found only 86 instances of fraud between 2002 and 2007 and failed to prosecute a single person.
That bolsters the DNC's contention that such laws are intended to inhibit voters more likely to cast ballots for Democratic candidates. All but one of the 2011 bills tightening photo ID requirements were introduced by Republicans, and the report notes that the 23 million eligible voters who lack such identifications are disproportionately minorities, low-income or students. Stringent new laws governing voter registration drives are more likely to affect minorities, who in 2008 were twice as likely to register at such drives.
Every major investigation into voter fraud in the United States has arrived at the same conclusion: There is almost none, the report's authors wrote. The real fraud has been the use of baseless allegations to change election laws in ways that will lead to partisan Republican gains.
Democrats' Counter Moves
In a conference call with reporters, DNC Chair, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said the committee was fully engaged in a variety of counterattacks that include educating people on what they will need to vote. She pointed to grassroots organizing that helped Maine voters amass enough signatures to repeal a law that eliminated same-day voting.
We're aggressively engaged in making sure that we help voters remove these obstacles and barriers that are being put in their way that are essentially designed to rig an election when Republicans can't win these elections on the merits, Wasserman Schultz said.
During the same conference call, Will Crossley, counsel and director for the Voting Rights Institute, underscored the possibility of legal action, citing a legal review of whether the Voting Rights Act requires the federal government to approve implementation of Florida's new election law. The law is widely considered to be one of the most onerous in the country -- Florida's League of Women Voters suspended their voting drives after it passed, and a high school social studies teacher was recently hit with heavy fines after she organized a drive to register students. Sen. Bill Nelson has scheduled a hearing to discuss the disenfranchising impact of the law.
We have a history of challenging these matters in court if need be and we're more than prepared to continue that into the future, Crossley said.
The DNC will need to combine litigation with real push up your sleeves, put on your walking shoes organizing efforts, said Keesha Gaskins, senior council at New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, a thinktank that has researched how the laws block voter access. That includes telling voters that early voting is no longer available and helping them navigate the cumbersome process of obtaining an approved government ID.
The same effort it took to register 400 voters who were most impacted, minority or poor voters, before you didn't have to worry about the photo ID, you just had to make sure they got to the polls, Gaskins said. That same amount of energy is not going to reach voters if you need to help them get voter ID's, get birth certificates they need to get those ID's, so there's a real resource issue.
Ernestine Krehbiel has witnesses those difficulties firsthand. Krehbiel is the president of the League of Women Voters of Kansas, and she said she is frustrated that the state has neither allocated enough money to implement its new voter ID law nor launched the massive campaign for educating the voters that Krehbiel believes is necessary.
These laws are very dramatic changes, and I just think there's going to be an awful lot of people who end up at the polls and not know they're supposed to have a photo ID and it will end it too late, Krehbiel said.
Birth Certificate Requirement Could Discourage Citizens from Voting
Krehbiel described numerous problems with the bureaucratic hurdles imposed by the law. She said the long lines and trips to obtain the proper identification -- prospective voters will need to get a birth certificate in order to be issued a valid photo ID -- discourage many prospective voters, particularly elderly voters who may just give up rather than travel long distances across sparsely populated regions of the state and stand in line for hours. Women who have taken their husband's names must produce a marriage certificate as well as a birth certificate, a requirement that has already led to a 96-year-old African American woman in Chattanooga, Tenn. being denied a government ID.
It clearly makes it so groups like ours cannot set up a table at a football game or a mall and have people register to vote, Krehbiel said. Even if they had their birth certificate in their pocket, who would let me or a complete stranger photocopy it?
Krehbiel also questioned the motives of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a rising Republican icon (he also helped write the controversial Arizona immigration bill that produced a cascade of harsh state immigration laws) who was a vocal supporter of the voting law.
Mr. Kobach has beat the drum of fear here in Kansas about all these illegal immigrants doing fraudulent voting, Krehbiel said. It is a phony claim. He's got a solution in search of a problem.