Facing South
Facing South

Advocates draw voting wars to a stalemate in key Southern states

The war over who gets to vote, and how -- an ever-brewing battle, escalated in recent years -- continues to rage across the South.

But after a year of looking like a win for those pushing photo ID requirements and other voting restrictions, voting rights advocates have mounted a comeback that has drawn the voting wars to a stalemate in many key Southern states.

Which isn't to say conservative lawmakers haven't scored key victories in the voting wars. After 2010, when Republicans took over or increased their numbers in many state legislatures, they succeeded in pushing a passel of voting law changes, recently summarized by the Brennan Center for Justice:

VOTER ID: 34 states saw laws that would deny the vote to those without a photo ID. Photo ID bills were signed into law in nine states, including Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Virginia, which considered a photo ID law, instead approved a bill allowing multiple kinds of ID.

PROOF OF CITIZENSHIP: In an intermingling of the immigration and voting debates, 17 states saw bills requiring proof of citizenship, like a birth certificate, to vote. Alabama, Kansas and Tennessee passed the laws; Tennessee's version only requires a check for those flagged as potential non-citizens, a process that's been riddled with errors in Florida.

RESTRICTING VOTER REGISTRATION: 16 states introduced bills limiting who could register people to vote, and how voters registered. Florida, Illinois 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.

REDUCING VOTING DAYS: Nine states saw legislation to shorten their early voting days; they passed in Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee and West Virginia.

BARRIERS 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.

And that's just the state legislatures. In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott authorized a controversial purge of suspected "non-citizens" on the voter rolls.

But in recent months, what appeared to be a Republican voting war knockout has turned into a draw. In many key states, a combination of grassroots advocacy and legal intervention has frustrated GOP efforts to enact far-reaching election changes, at least in time to impact the 2012 elections.

A state-by-state survey of the voting rights pushback:

FLORIDA: The Department of Justice intervened to stop Florida's far-reaching voting restrictions; the case is still being considered in court. On the issue of voter registration rules, on May 31 a U.S. judge in Atlanta struck down the new Florida rules, calling them "harsh and impractical."

The Justice Department also moved to block Florida's voting purge. Last week, a judge overturned DOJ's injunction, in what many viewed to be a victory for Gov. Scott. But most Florida election officials are declining to carry the purge out -- as Vicki Davis, president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections, told The Nation: "The supervisors are where we were before—we’ve stopped the purge."

NORTH CAROLINA: In another key battleground state, it didn't even get to the litigation stage. In 2011, the state's new Republican majority passed a photo ID requirement. But a spirited push-back campaign by groups including Democracy North Carolina, the League of Women Voters and the NAACP helped convince Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue to veto the bill. When the legislature came back in 2012, it managed to override many of Perdue's vetos -- but realized it didn't have the votes on photo ID, and adjourned without a vote on the bill.

Republicans did score one victory in North Carolina's election wars, however: At the last minute, they pulled from the budget $600,000 for the state election board -- a move that will cost the state $4 million in federal matching funds to improve election systems heading into 2012.

SOUTH CAROLINA: The Department of Justice blocked S.C.'s new photo ID bill in December 2011, arguing the state couldn't show it wouldn't have a disparate impact on African-American and Latino voters. In a blow to the state, a federal court recently said it won't hear the case until September 24 -- making its implementation by November 2012 unlikely.

TEXAS: DOJ had also blocked Texas' new photo ID bill because "it would have had a disproportionate impact on Hispanic voters," according to Attorney General Eric Holder. The case will be heard July 9, making it possible the law could take effect by November.

Texas has gone further in fighting for its photo ID requirement, challenging the very ability of the Justice Department to intervene under the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 of the Act requires certain states, based largly in the South, to "pre-clear" or seek approval from the federal government before enacting major changes to elections.

Many Texas Republicans not only disagree with Section 5 -- they want to do away with the Voting Rights Act entirely. In late June, the state Republican Party released its official platform, which included this plank:

Repeal the Voting Rights Act of 1965: We urge that the Voter Rights Act of 1965 codified and updated in 1973 be repealed and not reauthorized.

Clearly, the voting wars won't be ending anytime soon.

Facing South
Facing South
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I'm not against photo ID

I'm not against photo ID requirements for voting, per se. I'm against the needless obstacles put in place to obtain a photo ID. Here in Texas, you have to have a copy of your birth certificate or proof of naturalization of citizenship, which aren't free, to present to a branch of the Department of Public Safety (DPS, Texas' equivalent of the DMV). To top that, around 80 of Texas' 254 counties (around 31.4%, almost one-third) either have closed their DPS offices a this time with no announced date of intention to re-open them, or they just don't have DPS offices, period. Why would the State of Texas want to enact this new voter ID law when they have so many DPS offices closed? This places a tremendous burden on lower income residents residing in these counties. If you live in Johnson City, you have to drive to Marble Falls or Fredricksburg, which is about an hour drive each way, just to get to your nearest DPS office and back. Then, you have to spend an hour or two or four in the lines at DPS. So, in other words, you're pretty much losing a day of work just to go get a photo ID. In this economy, a good chunk of people in the lower income bracket cannot afford to miss a day of work. And if you need to get a copy of your birth certificate, which, as I mentioned earlier, is not free, you can't get that at DPS, you have to go to another agency altogether, the Department of State Health Services, so you have to make multiple trips just to get your photo ID. When Former President Jimmy Carter and Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III proposed we require photo ID to vote, they intended for this proposed system to be rolled out incrementally and gradually, so that by the time the law went into effect, everybody who wanted to vote would have their photo ID ready to go vote. The way these Republican state legislatures want things done, they want them implemented overnight, with as little people being informed and aware of it as possible, so they can have lower voter turnouts, with themselves in the victor's chair. I propose that these laws only go into effect once there is at least one open DMV-equivalent office in every county of the states enforcing the photo ID laws, and to cut down on travel, birth certificates are offered at those DMV-equivalent offices, and those with lower income, who cannot afford them can file an affidavit stating their indigence, so they can get one for free if they're getting it for the purpose of voting, just like free photo IDs. Notice how these laws only apply to people voting in person, and yet, the majority of fraudulent votes, which the Republicans claim the new laws are intended to fight, are in the form of absentee ballots, which the new laws do not encompass. Now, tell me, why would they want a photo ID law to not encompass absentee ballots? Let's see, who tends to vote in absentia? Military service members overseas, elderly people too sick to go vote in person, and the 1%. In other words, people who tend to vote Republican. Oh, and for the record, not every person drinks, smokes, drives, banks, is on welfare, goes to see R-rated movies, etc. So the argument of "You have to show photo ID to buy cigarettes, buy alcohol, open a bank account, etc., so I don't see what the big deal is when it comes to voting" is a cop-out.

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