Restrictive Voting Laws: Making it Harder for Some to Vote

Written by Ralph E. Stone. Posted in Opinion, Politics

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Published on September 08, 2012 with 5 Comments

Eeeeek! A Fraud. (RJ Matson, Roll Call, April 16, 2007)

By Ralph E. Stone

September 8, 2012

In the 2008 presidential election, approximately 5 million more Americans voted than in 2004. And the voters were the most racially diverse in American history, with African-Americans, Latino, and Asian-American citizens voting in record number. Since the 2008 election, however, more than 30 states have introduced laws that make it harder to vote, ostensibly to curb voter fraud. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, these restrictive laws could disenfranchise more than 5 million Americans, and could effect the presidential election in key states.

At least ten states have introduced voter ID laws. Approximately 1 in 10 Americans do not have a photo ID. In Crawford V. Marion County Election Board, 553 U.S. 181 (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court held that an Indiana law requiring voters to provide photo IDs did not violate the U.S. Constitution, finding it closely related to Indiana’s legitimate state interest in preventing voter fraud, modernizing elections, and safeguarding voter confidence. The Indiana law in question required all voters casting a ballot in person to present a U.S. or Indiana photo ID. Under the Indiana law, voters who do not have a photo ID may cast a provisional ballot. To have their votes counted, they must visit a designated government office within 10 days and bring a photo ID or sign a statement saying they cannot afford one. But in their ruling on behalf of states’ ability to regulate elections, the high court also noted that state “judgment must prevail unless it imposes a severe and unjustified overall burden upon the right to vote, or is intended to disadvantage a particular class.”

In another case, a three-judge panel in Washington, D.C. struck down a Texas ID law. In the same court, a similar South Carolina ID law is before a three-judge panel. The panel cited a $22 fee for a state ID, which they ruled imposed “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor.” The difference between the Indiana case and these two cases may be that the Texas and South Carolina laws are much stricter than Indiana’s. It is expected that the Texas and South Carolina cases will end up in the Supreme Court.

In Pennsylvania, a lower state court ruled that a voter ID law should apply in the November election. The case is on appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In Ohio, a key state in the presidential election, a court struck down a new law that allowed only military personnel to vote the weekend before the November election, which the court said discriminated against the poor and minorities, who historically have taken advantage of the early weekend voting to cast their ballots.

Seven states require proof of citizenship at the polls.

Thirty-two states have introduced bills to reduce early or absentee voting. In 2008, 30 percent of all ballots were cast before election day.

Thirty-two states, including California, restrict voter registration drives. Onerous regulation of voter registration activities can significantly limit or even halt community-based voter registration drives, blocking the citizens who rely on these drives from getting on the voter rolls. For example, until June 2012, national groups like the League of Women Voters and Rock the Vote had discontinued voter registration activity in Florida due to that state’s excessive regulations, particularly unreasonable fines and deadlines. On May 31, a federal judge blocked some of Florida’s voter registration restrictions.

In Texas, both Voting for America, an affiliate of Project Vote, and Project Vote filed suit against the state of Texas to challenge its election code that similarly impedes community-based voter registration drives. The group sought a preliminary injunction to block portions of the law that have a chilling effect on voter registration activity, in violation of the National Voter Registration Act and the U.S. Constitution. On August 2, a federal judge agreed and granted a partial preliminary injunction, effectively blocking some of the state’s most prohibitive rules until a final ruling can be reached.

These restrictive laws are supposed to curb fraud. “Voter fraud” occurs when individuals cast ballots despite knowing that they are ineligible to vote, in an attempt to defraud the election system. After an investigation by the Justice Department between 2002 and 2007, not one person was prosecuted for impersonating an eligible voter at the polls. And out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud – and many of the cases involved immigrants and former felons who were simply unaware of their ineligibility. As the Brennan Center notes, “The truth of the matter is that voter fraud—votes knowingly cast by ineligible individuals—is exceedingly rare; one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud.”

The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prevents any state from denying the right to vote to any male citizen on account of his race. Voter restriction laws borrow from pre-civil rights-era voting and election laws designed to restrict the rights of African-Americans to vote. In addition to violence and intimidation, many Southern states used poll taxes to prevent Blacks from exercising their civil and voting rights from 1868 through the mid-1870s. A poll tax, which many Blacks could not afford, had to be paid in order to vote. The requirement to purchase a state identification card or other form of acceptable identification acts as a poll tax and discourages the poor from voting.

The Republican Party is a minority party. By borrowing from pre-civil rights-era Southern states that used voting and election laws to manipulate the voting strength of the electorate, the GOP is determined to shrink the majority by reducing the number of elderly, poor, African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans voters.

For a state-by-state listing of voter restriction laws, see Laws Against Voting: State Statutes that Restrict Participation in 2012 by Project Vote.

I also recommend The Truth About Voter Fraud by the Brennan Center for Justice, for an analysis of voter fraud, finding that allegations of widespread voter fraud is greatly exaggerated.

Ralph E. Stone

Ralph E. Stone

I was born in Massachusetts; graduated from Middlebury College and Suffolk Law School; served as an officer in the Vietnam war; retired from the Federal Trade Commission (consumer and antitrust law); travel extensively with my wife Judi; and since retirement involved in domestic violence prevention and consumer issues.

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  • Westernfan

    I understand that the Republicans may have an agenda here, but when ID is already required to drive a car, cash a check, buy liquor, and any number of other daily tasks, how is it unreasonable to require ID to cast a vote?  Is partiscipating in an election somehow less important?

  • Ralph E. Stone

    Voting is a right in this country.  Requiring an ID tax much like a poll tax tends to disenfranchise certain classes of voters, i.e., African-Americans, Asian-Americans, the poor, the elderly.  This is unacceptable, especially when the reason — curbing voter fraud — is bogus.  A drivers license may be used by many as an ID, but it was originally issued to show that the person has been tested and is competent to operate a motor vehicle and knows the applicable driving laws.  A bank or business requiring an ID to cash a check could clearly demonstrate a history of check fraud justifying an ID.  One could argue that a drivers license or cashing a check is not a right but a privilege whereas voting is a right.  When infringing on a right, the standard should be much higher.

  • Richmondman

    The current controversy regarding voter fraud from the “run, Ed , run” group indicates that the issue of voter fraud is more pervasive, and much closer to home than we might think. 

    Also, a legal photo ID is required to register to vote in Califonia.  

    According to the California Secretary of State’s website – “Every person who registers or re-registers to vote after January 1, 2006, is now required to include on their voter registration affidavit their California driver’s license number, if they have a current and valid driver’s license, or their California identification card number, if they have one, or, if they have neither a driver’s license nor a California ID, the last four digits of their Social Security number, if they have a Social Security card. If a person does not possess a driver’s license, state-issued identification card or a Social Security card, he or she will still become a registered voter. But, if they do have this information, they must provide it. Any person voting for the first time who registers by mail who does not provide this information will be asked to show a form of identification when he or she goes to the polls, or to provide a copy of that identification with his or her vote-by-mail ballot.”

    Why shouldn’t it also be required to vote as well?  I would think the dangers to our democracy from illegal voting, especially when only 30-40% of people vote, trumps the problems with making it less convenient for a few voters.

  • Ralph E. Stone

    The ACLU has been involved in 36 lawsuits challenging restrictive voting laws in 20 different states over the past 18 months.  And they expect to file even more lawsuits in the months leading up to the election.  Is California’s ID requirement on the list?  Who knows.  Here is an interesting debate on the subject in the Sacramento Bee.  (www.sacbee.com/2012/09/06/4791203/should-california-voters-have.html)

  • Wickedhuny

    Ralph, I think you discriminate more against a poor person by not helping them get a state ID. Without one a person is so limited. To me if someone really cared about the poor, they would help them get that ID. Not just to vote, but for everything else it is needed for, which now days is almost everything.