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Attack on voter rights

Molly Young | 8/29/2012, 5 p.m.

In the 2008 presidential election, large numbers of voters that had not previously made strong showings at the polls came out to cast their ballots. African Americans, Latinos, women and students showed up in record numbers. But since 2011, a number of states have aggressively pursued and passed new voter-identification laws, also called voter-suppression laws, which have created new barriers that mainly target these groups and may keep a large number of voting-eligible citizens away from the polls.

Generally, these laws require a person to show state-issued or approved identification before being able to vote, or even register to vote.

On the surface, requesting identification from a voter at the polls sounds harmless. However, many states are requiring that the identification be state-issued, such as a driver's license or passport, which a significant number of voters do not have.

Photo identification is another aspect of such laws, because states are also trying to change registration requirements. Registrants are being required to bring proof of citizenship, such as birth certificates or passports that many people don't possess and that can be cost-prohibitive. If they don't have a copy of their birth certificate, obtaining one can be lengthy process that requires significant fees. This can create a circular effect since they need a copy of a birth certificate to get an ID, but they need ID to apply for a copy of a birth certificate in some states.
These laws also exclude forms of photo identification that have been used in the past, such as school or work identification.

According to information from the ACLU website, 15 states currently have passed new voter I.D. legislation, three states have laws pending, and one has been reversed by the courts (http://www.aclu.org/maps/voter-suppression-measures-passed-2011).

Currently, some of these states are being challenged in the federal courts as being in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Voting Rights Act gives the U.S. Department of Justice oversight or "pre-clearance," particularly over those states that have historically challenged voter's rights, such as Alabama, Georgia, Texas and Virginia. If pre-clearance is denied, then a state can sue in return, causing long-term litigation between the state and federal levels. Most recently the Department of Justice has intervened in Florida, Texas, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania. Many states are trying to challenge the validity of the Voting Rights Act to determine whether it is constitutional.

"The NAACP is actively litigating against voter-suppression laws in Texas, Florida, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania, and has had success litigating a lawsuit in Wisconsin, where the voter I.D. law has been invalidated for the upcoming election in November," according to Jokata Eaddy, NAACP senior director of the Voting Rights Initiative.

A number of groups are being affected. Women, who may change names when they marry, can be challenged when a birth certificate doesn't match a married name. Also, according to Eaddy, "Pennsylvania says specifically that an I.D. must have an expiration date, which targets the youth vote, making school campus I.D.s no longer valid to use for voting in the state.