Posted by on July 03, 2012 in Blog

Protecting the voting rights of disadvantaged and minority Americans has been a challenge in the United States since its first elections, and despite widespread laws to prevent racism and discrimination at the polls, the problem of voter suppression persists today. In 2011 and 2012, 27 states around the country saw legislation introduced with the purported goal of combatting voter fraud. However, the Brennan Center for Justice, among other groups, has pointed out that these laws could disenfranchise as many as 5 million eligible voters who don’t have easy access to things like government-issued photo IDs or voter registration drives.

Laws that limit early voting, restrict voter registration, or mandate voter IDs disproportionately affect disadvantaged voters, students, and minorities, who tend to have a more difficult time gaining access to the polls. According to the Brennan Center report, as many as 25% of eligible African Americans don’t possess a valid form of photo ID, compared with 11% of all eligible Americans. Some voter ID laws limit the extent to which students can use their school IDs to vote. Restricting third-party voter registration also hurts African American, Latino, and Arab American communities, which tend to rely more heavily on voter registration drives.

In most cases, these laws are thinly-veiled attempts by state governments to weaken the voice of demographics that are likely to vote for an opposing party. Many of these laws are being passed in key swing states, and that could mean the difference in close races in November.

Below are updates on potentially suppressive voter legislation that has been passed or is pending in states with significant Arab American populations:

Florida has been the center of a voter purge controversy, in which the state government gave the information of 2,600 “ineligible” voters to local election officials, many of whom were in fact registered and eligible U.S. citizens. Hispanics and other minorities represented a disproportionately high percentage of the list. Florida has also passed laws limiting third-party voter registration (such as voter registration drives) and early voting.

Illinois passed legislation limiting the amount of time allowed for registrars to return completed voter registration forms in 2011, and is considering further restrictions. Both the Senate and House of Representatives have bills pending to require specific government-issued voter IDs when voting in person or by mail.

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder vetoed three restrictive voting laws on Tuesday, which would have required proof of citizenship before registering to vote, and limited third-party voter registration. The laws were passed by the Michigan Senate last year, but will not go into effect.

Massachusetts has several bills pending that would require a photo ID when voting in person or when voting absentee,  including one that would require specifically a photo ID issued by the registry of motor vehicles.

New Jersey passed a law requiring an approved photo ID to vote except by those with a religious objection to being photographed. Those without acceptable ID may cast a provisional ballot, but provisional ballots may be challenged.

New York is considering several variations of voter ID legislation, with some that would allow a non-photo ID for absentee voting and would allow those without proper government-issued ID to cast an affidavit ballot.

Ohio passed two laws restricting early voting and voter registration in 2011, but both laws were subsequently repealed by the legislature.

Pennsylvania passed a law requiring photo ID to vote in person, except for those with a religious objection to being photographed. Recently, House Majority Leader Mike Turzai stirred controversy when he revealed that the intention behind the law was to help reduce Democratic voter turnout. The Pennsylvania Department of State reported Tuesday that more than 758,000 registered voters lack a standard driver’s license or a non-driver photo ID. That’s 9.2 percent of the state’s 8.2 million voters.

Texas passed a law requiring government-issued voter ID or proof of citizenship to vote, but the bill cannot be enacted unless it is approved by the Department of Justice on July 9, as required by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. According to the new law, voters would be allowed to cast a provisional ballot without a photo ID if he or she has a religious objection to being photographed, or if a natural disaster prevented him or her from obtaining a photo ID. Some Texas politicians are calling for the Voting Rights Act to be repealed, giving the state government free reign to change voting laws, even if those changes are discriminatory.

Virginia passed a law requiring government-issued voter IDs to vote in-person or absentee, which went into effect on July 1. Those who don’t have an acceptable ID may cast an affidavit ballot. There are also two laws pending which would require a photo ID or proof of citizenship to vote.

AAI will continue to track voting rights legislation, and we encourage you to contact us for more information or to keep us informed of what you’re doing in your state to fight voter suppression.