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Voter Suppression Update: Taking Stock of 2011, Planning for 2012

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A roundup of pending, passed, and defeated voter suppression legislation from 2011.

CREDIT: iStockphoto / spxChrome

Recent Updates

Pennsylvania Closes the Year without a Photo ID Law

We never would have guessed it back in April, but Pennsylvanians will be ringing in the New Year without a new photo ID law on the books. Despite a last minute effort by the Senate State Government Committee to get an amended bill to the Senate floor, the 2011 session days have ended without a full Senate vote.

However, Pennsylvania voters aren’t out of the woods yet, as the legislation will carry over into 2012. This means lawmakers can pick up right where they left off when the session resumes in January. The modified bill now allows for IDs from Pa.-accredited colleges and universities, as well as nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and is rumored to have the support of the original House sponsor.

Michigan Voter Suppression Efforts on Hold until 2012

With this year’s session days winding down today, Michigan will also end the year without new voter suppression laws. Here too, however, the legislation currently in the Senate will carry over to 2012, meaning Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s reform proposals will continue to threaten the voting rights of Michiganders when the legislature returns in January. Secretary Johnson’s “SAFE” initiative includes harsh new restrictions on community voter registration drives and a proposal that would allow the state to challenge the absentee ballots of students and others temporarily living outside of Michigan.

Looking Back – Good News

It’s been quite the year, but it hasn’t been all bad. From legislative advocacy to governors’ vetoes to citizen-led repeal efforts, we’ve seen examples of strong coalition building and successful efforts to defend our voting rights from relentless attacks.

Photo ID bills were vetoed by Democratic governors in Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer also vetoed a bill that would have eliminated Election Day registration (EDR).

In Maine and Ohio, citizens used initiative processes to put voter suppression laws passed by state lawmakers on the ballot for voters to judge. As a result, Mainers voted overwhelmingly to save EDR in November, and Ohioans will get the chance to repeal a bill that eliminates a period of same day registration and shortens early voting, among other things, in November 2012.

In Tennessee, legislation has been introduced to repeal the new photo ID law, and the Protect the Vote TN coalition is collecting petition signatures to make sure legislators know that voters don’t want to be blocked from the ballot box by unnecessary laws.

Nationally–and even internationally–voter suppression efforts have increasingly garnered attention.

Last week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. gave a speech at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, to “call on our political parties to resist the temptation to suppress certain votes in the hope of attaining electoral success and, instead, achieve success by appealing to more voters.”

Last month, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), and others held a forum on new state voting laws. This followed a hearing by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights in September (read FELN’s testimony here). Looking ahead to January, the Senate Subcommittee will hold a panel in Tampa on Florida’s new voter suppression laws.

Looking Back – Bad News

Photo ID was the big story of 2011, with eight states passing new photo ID requirements into law (Ala., Kan., Miss., R.I., S.C., Tenn., Texas, Wisc.). The new laws will be in effect as of Jan. 1 in Kansas and Tennessee. Wisconsin implemented a confusing “soft” launch of its new photo ID law during recall and special elections this year, and will fully implement the new requirement starting with the spring 2012 primary. South Carolina and Texas intend to implement their new ID requirements in time for the 2012 elections, but they must receive federal approval under the Voting Rights Act first.

But voter suppression efforts didn’t stop with photo ID. Kansas and Tennessee have put burdensome new proof of citizenship requirements into place, and Alabama passed a proof of citizenship requirement that must receive federal approval under the Voting Rights Act. Community registration drives were seriously curtailed in Florida and Texas, early voting opportunities were reduced in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, and West Virginia, and the governors of Iowa and Florida used executive actions to roll back the voting rights of individuals with past criminal convictions.

With the exception of the felony disenfranchisement action, Florida’s recent changes are pending federal approval under the Voting Rights Act with respect to five counties covered by the Act. In the meantime, Florida has implemented the changes in the remaining 62 counties. As a result, Florida will likely operate its January presidential primary under two different sets of rules,no doubt leading to further confusion, unequal access, and voter disenfranchisement.

What’s Next?

What’s on the horizon for 2012? Only time will tell. But we’ve got a few tips for what to look out for!

In addition to the pending legislation in Michigan and Pennsylvania, here are some of the biggest items on our radar for the New Year:

Maine: Let’s stay hopeful that the resounding citizen’s veto success has curbed the enthusiasm Maine legislators had for voter suppression in 2011, but we can’t afford to stop paying attention. It may very well be that the EDR battle has only toughened the resolve of photo ID proponents, and a careful eye should be kept on proposals to amend the residency and domicile laws in ways that limit the franchise.

Missouri: Legislators have put the question of whether to amend Missouri’s constitution to require photo ID on the ballot for voters to decide next year. However, FELN, Advancement Project, and the ACLU have brought a legal challenge that could thwart the effort!

New Hampshire: Legislators in both the House and Senate are reportedly examining various ways to restrict the franchise by redefining residency for voting purposes. It’s likely these changes will be tied up in a package with a renewed photo ID effort, so watch out for a double-whammy!

North Carolina:Republicans in North Carolina may get up to their old tricks and try to override Democratic Governor Bev Perdue’s photo ID veto–again.

Virginia: A bill requiring voters who can’t prove identity to vote by provisional ballot has been pre-filed, and we’re worried that’s just the start of voter suppression shenanigans in Virginia for 2012.

This update was cross-posted on the Fair Election Legal Network’s blog.

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