by: Jordan Reth
When we think about State sanctioned restriction of voting rights we may be tempted to think of some ‘foreign oppressive regime’ or even a darker side to our own history, but usually not a practice in a modern democracy and certainly not a practice in America, where we fight for freedom and the rights of our citizens.
Since the 2010 state elections, over 30 states have either enacted laws or have laws pending that aim to restrict the voting electorate. These restrictions include identification/citizenship requirements, shortening allowable early voting times and voter registration restrictions. The most cited reason for enacted these tougher thresholds to voting is cracking down on voter fraud.
Yet, these specific types of voting restrictions disproportionately affect minorities and both the disabled and elderly, which also have the potential to affect veterans from exercising their right to vote as United States citizens. (Active Duty military voting rights are protected under Federal Law.)
A study by the Brennan Center concludes that, “as many as 11 percent of eligible voters—roughly 21 million Americans—lack current, unexpired government-issued photo IDs. The percentages are even higher among seniors, African-Americans and other minorities, the working poor, the disabled and students…”
So how do these voting laws restrict votes? Requirements in Maryland for an ID are (1) two forms proving Maryland residency, (2) a document proving you own a Social Security Card number, or proof of your Social Security Card ineligibility, (3) one document proving your age and identity, (4) proof of lawful status, and (5) a $15 dollar fee unless 65 years or older.
Between fees, documentation, travel time/costs, and other practical considerations, the efforts to obtain an ID or proof of citizenship makes the entire process prohibitive for many, and essentially restricts the rights of United States citizens to vote in America - almost 50 years after the Voter Rights Act was passed to prevent this very thing.
In addition to ID requirements, other types of restrictions have been enacted. SB 751 in Michigan “allows for a voter to be removed entirely from the registration list if the Department of State “believes” they have moved out of the state if the voter does not respond within 30 days to a postcard seeking verification of their residency and then does not vote in the next 2 general elections.” Texas passed a law mandating that only ‘deputy voting registrars’ may register people to vote. Wisconsin extended the residency requirement from 10 days to 28 days before allowing people to vote and in Florida, voters can no longer update their voter registration at the polls if they moved within the state.
But many of these State voter restriction laws have been challenged. An act in Maine abolishing Election Day registrations gathered enough signatures for a repeal and won. An Ohio law prohibiting election workers from redirecting citizens to the correct polling locations has been voted on to be overturned by the Ohio legislature and courts have struck down several other voting restriction laws in Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, and Ohio.
Yet, when legal victories are won against these voter restriction laws, those attempting to enforce it still do not want to concede, even after binding court decisions. On September 4, Ohio Secretary of State, Jon Husted, issued a directive prohibiting Ohio counties from setting new hours for early voting, despite a United States District Court Judge ruling a week prior that stated Ohio could not take away three days of early voting prior to the election. Husted recanted his directive only after he was personally summoned to federal court by the judge after what many considered to be acts akin to contempt of court.
So why the sudden push and fervor to restrict voting? Voter fraud is cited as the main reason for enacting tougher thresholds to exercise your voting rights. No one would suggest that voting fraud is a good thing but is it has rampant and widespread as the State legislative efforts suggest? According to one study by News21 cited in the Wall Street Journal, there have been 2,068 cases of voter fraud since 2000, or an average of 173 cases a year. Additionally, the Department of Justice’s 2002 “Ballot Access and Voting Integrity Initiative” has only obtained 26 convictions or guilty pleas for fraud between 2002 and 2005. A 2007 Demos study concluded that “voter fraud appears to be very rare” and a 2007 study by the Brennan Center found that “by any measure, voter fraud is extraordinarily rare.”
Yet the threat to our voting rights is real and anything but rare. In the Ohio early voting restriction case alone, over 98,000 U.S. citizens may have their right to vote restricted or all together taken away. Should we be focusing on wide, untailored legislation that cavalierly takes away our democratic voice to protect against potentially 173 cases of fraudulent voting? You decide in November, unless of
course you don’t have your ID yet.