WHY THE RESTRICTIONS ON VOTING? (Part 2)

Here’s issue #12 of my Policy and Politics Newsletter, written 12/18/11. This newsletter continues looking at the issue of voting, exploring who is affected by the changes in voting laws and why they are happening.

The new hurdles to voting and registering to vote that have recently been put in place in various states (see Newsletter #11) will have the greatest impact on the young and old (particularly those who don’t have a driver’s license), on minorities, and on low income individuals. For example, the requirement for a government-issued picture ID will have the greatest impact on the 10% of US citizens who lack such IDs, including, disproportionately, 25% of African-Americans, 18% of 18 – 24 year olds, and 15% of those with incomes under $35,000. Some states’ laws disqualify or make it difficult to use student IDs. Note that before 2006, no state required voters to show a government-issued photo ID in order to vote. In some states, one has to pay to get a government-issued voter ID or the documents required to qualify for one; this has the effect of instituting a backdoor poll tax. Some states’ laws requiring an ID were blocked by courts on the ground that they interfered with the right of eligible citizens to vote. [1]

So where is the thrust for these new, restrictive voting laws coming from? The charge is being led by conservative Republicans and an advocacy group they and corporations created and fund called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC was founded by arch conservative Paul Weyrich, who in 1980 stated, “I don’t want everybody to vote. … our leverage in elections … goes up as the voting populace goes down.” ALEC is funded in part by the billionaire Koch brothers, who bankrolled the Tea Party. It develops model legislation that it provides to state legislators. [2]  [3]

The 6 states that passed new voter ID laws this year have Republican Governors and Legislatures. In 5 of those states, the law was sponsored by a legislator who is a member of ALEC. The 5 Governors who vetoed voter ID laws were all Democrats.

In Maine, a new Tea Party Republican Governor and Republicans in the Legislature repealed the state’s 38 year old same day registration law. (It was reinstated by a referendum.) In Floridaand Iowa, new, conservative Republican Governors removed ex-felons’ right to vote, disenfranchising 100,000 voters in each state. And the pattern goes on. [4] 

In conclusion, these new barriers to voting are the result of a concerted effort to reduce voting among citizens who tend to be progressive or Democratic. Conservative Republicans are engaged in an unprecedented effort to reduce voting to gain partisan advantage. These are the first efforts to systematically diminish rather than expand voting and voting rights since the final days of southern resistance to black voting. These efforts represent an attack on the basic principle of democracy on which this country was founded.


[1]       Weiser, W., and Norden, L., 10/3/11, “Voting law changes in 2012,”BrennanCenter for Justice, New York University School of Law

[2]       Berman, Ari, 8/30/11, “The GOP war on voting,” Rolling Stone

[3]       Nichols, John, 12/9/11, “Koch Brothers, ALEC, and the savage assault on democracy,” The Nation

[4]       People for theAmerican Way, retrieved 10/29/11, “The right to vote under attack: The campaign to keep millions of Americans from the ballot box,” http://www.pfaw.org/print/16472

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