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Voter Suppression Update: The Good and The Bad, Part II

Now that January is behind us and state legislatures are back in full swing, we have seen several legislatures fast track legislation that makes it harder to vote. This past week we saw voter ID bills being introduced and moving through the legislatures in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Virginia. In South Carolina, legislators have introduced legislation that will place onerous restrictions on groups holding voter registration drives. In Ohio, Secretary of State John Husted called on the state legislature to repeal a voter suppression law passed last year that he supported, knowing it could be repealed in November by voters. It appears lawmakers will take up a bill to repealing the law and look at reforms that could be just as bad or worse.

However, it’s not all bad news. Bills introduced in Maine and Nebraska were shelved after voting rights advocates organized in opposition. A hearing by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights in Florida spotlighted the impact of recently passed legislation in Florida and similar legislation passed in other states. Coalitions in Wisconsin and Tennessee are forming to overcome the photo ID barrier by helping voters get an ID if they need one. All of the work over the past year has helped stop restrictive legislation from becoming law in several places and, where photo ID passed, to overcome added obstacles to voting.

Cross-posted from the Fair Election Legal Network’s blog.

The Good News

Colorado: Lawmakers are not going to re-introduce a “proof of citizenship” bill originally pushed by Secretary of State Scott Gessler. It would have allowed the Secretary of State to do periodic checks of the voter registration records against federal and state databases. If he suspected anyone was not a citizen, a voter would have 90 days to prove again their right to vote. While good news, Gessler believes he may be able to accomplish the same goals through power he already holds through his office.

Florida: Senators Bill Nelson and Dick Durbin held a Senate hearing in Tampa on January 27 on Florida’s new voting laws. Sen. Durbin requested that Governor Rick Scott appear at the hearing but Scott refused to respond to the request. FELN published an opinion piece the same day that spotlighted how Florida’s new voting laws will make voting more difficult for low income workers, minorities, and young adults.

Maine: A photo ID bill that was voted down in the Senate last year was briefly back again with a January 25 hearing in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. The committee voted to table the issue. Lawmakers on the committee expressed willingness to dump the bill and direct the Secretary of State, a supporter of photo ID legislation, to propose election reform legislation next year. No photo ID requirement will be voted on this year.

Tennessee: There have been a considerable number of bills – 25 in all – introduced in Tennessee. The rush for more legislation is most likely the result of numerous news stories showing the impact the photo ID requirement will have on seniors' ability to vote. The bills include changes to absentee voting, to obtaining an ID, exemptions from the ID requirement, expanding the number of acceptable ID’s, repealing the ID law, and allowing same day registration.

The bill that appears headed towards passage would lower the age from 65 to 60 for requesting an absentee ballot with no reason.  The reason for the change is that Tennesseans 60 or over do not have to have a photo on their driver’s license. This will make it difficult for those 60 and older to vote at the polls. However, you do not need to show a photo ID in Tennessee to vote by absentee. Without a fix to the law, Tennesseans between 60 and 64 might not be able to vote. A run-down of the other bills can be found here.

Voting rights advocates in the state are gearing up a campaign to repeal the photo ID law passed last year. Yesterday, disability advocates joined the campaign to repeal the law at a press event at the state capitol.  At the same time, there is an effort underway to help those without photo ID’s get them by telling voters that they need a photo ID, helping them get the documentation they need to obtain a photo ID, and providing rides to the Driver Service Centers.

Washington: An Election Day registration bill was introduced that would allow a person to register to vote and cast a ballot at an election office by 5pm on Election Day. County auditorsare voicing their discomfort with the proposed legislation.

Wisconsin: On January 18, the Dane County Circuit Court heard arguments on a motion to dismiss over a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters against the law passed last year that requires Wisconsin voters to present a photo ID at the polls.  The judge will not rule on the lawsuit until a March 9 hearing. There are two other lawsuits filed, one by the Milwaukee Chapter of the NAACP and the other is a lawsuit brought in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The Bad News

Colorado: A bill was introduced that would limit acceptable ID’s for voting to government-issued ID’s, including military, employee, and pilot’s licenses. This bill is not expected to pass.

Hawaii: A bill was introduced that would require a government ID at the polls. Acceptable ID’s include a driver’s license or state ID, passport, military ID, or citizenship certificate that includes a photo.

Iowa: Secretary of State Matt Schultz introduced legislation requiring voters to present a government or university-issued photo ID. If unable to present an ID, the voter could vote if they return later with required ID or another person signs an affidavit attesting to the would be voters identity. A voter could also sign an oath in order to vote if they do not have the required ID because of religious reasons or economic status. There seems to be little support among legislators for moving forward with the bill. 

Kansas: Secretary of State Kris Kobach is lobbying the Kansas legislature to move up the implementationof the proof of citizenship requirement to register to vote for the first time or to re-register to vote after living outside of Kansas from January 1, 2013 to June 15, 2012, ahead of the presidential election this November. A Senate Election Committee held a hearing on January 19 and a hearing in the Housewas held this week. One issue is that the state computer system may not be ready to implement the change by the time the change would take effect.

Maryland: A bill was introduced that would require a government ID to vote. Those that do not show an ID will have to vote by provisional ballot.

Minnesota: A constitutional amendment bill was introduced in the legislature that would put before voters an amendment to require Minnesotans to show a photo ID in order to vote. Last year, Governor Mark Dayton vetoed a similar bill. This legislation will only require a simple majority of the House and Senate to be placed on the November ballot. A Senate committee held a hearing this week on the constitutional amendment.

Missouri: A bill to require photo ID at the polls, similar to one passed last year but vetoed by the governor, was passed out of committee last week.

New Hampshire: A hearing was held on January 24 on a bill that would phase in a photo ID requirement. The bill will allow a college ID and, if a voter does not have a photo ID, they can sign an affidavit to verify their identity. Those signing an affidavit will be mailed a letter asking them to return it with written verification they voted. If the letter is not returned, the attorney general’s office will investigate. Starting in 2016, those signing an affidavit will have their picture taken at the polls. The bill has the support of the New Hampshire City and Town Clerks’ Association and Secretary of State Bill Gardner. 

A bill, targeting students by changing the definition of domicile with regards to registering to vote, passed out of committee this week. It is expected to be on the House floor next week and then move to the Senate. If passed, a person's voting address must be the same as their drivers license and motor vehicle registration.

New Mexico: A bill was introduced that requires a current and valid government ID to vote, including student ID and tribal enrollment numbers. It also requires two poll workers to verify that that ID matches registration information. To vote by absentee, a voter must submit a copy of the required ID or the ballot will be treated as a provisional ballot. Free IDs will be available to those 75 or older or if the voter turns 18 by the next general election.

Ohio: Secretary of State John Husted would like the legislature to repeal last year’s voting law that made changes to Ohio's voting laws that included shortening the early voting period. The law is suspended until after the November election because activists were successful in getting enough signatures to put it on the ballot and allow Ohioans to overturn it in a referendum. He is afraid this will cause confusion and believes lawmakers should repeal the law and return to election reform after the November election. A proposal will soon be introduced in the Senate to repeal the bill. However, lawmakers will consider replacing the law with multiple other bills that could make changes to early voting, the petition process, and local election board operations.

Oklahoma: Two bills have been filed requiring current and valid photo ID. Voters over 65 can present an expired ID. Those that do not show an ID must sign an affidavit and vote by provisional ballot.

South Carolina: A bill was introduced and voted out of committee this week that would require groups holding voter registration drives to register with the state, to provide names and addresses of all officers of the group, and all individuals collecting voter registration forms to sign a sworn statement that they will follow the law. Election officials will provide registration forms that has the organization’s name on it and those forms must be returned within five days. Failure to return the forms within that time frame will result in fines from $50 to $1000. The bill is expected on the House floor next week and to move over to the Senate.

Another bill that would require proof of citizenship was introduced, modeled after a similar bill in Georgia. It would require a U.S. government-issues ID, birth certificate, or naturalization documentation to register to vote.

Virginia: A bill was reintroduced that would require voters who are unable to present an approved form of identification at the polls to vote by provisional ballot – a ballot that would not be counted unless and until the voter’s identity is verified. This bill is identical to one passed by the Republican-controlled House last year but died in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Since the Senate now has an effective Republican majority the bill has a better chance of passing. The Virginia House this week passed the photo ID bill by a vote of 69-30. It now heads to the Senate.

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