Late last week, national Democrats announced they would be launching a campaign responding to laws across the country that may decrease access to the polls for many for the 2012 election.
DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz accused Republicans of launching a “full-scale attack on the public’s right to vote.” She said that GOP efforts in states to curb instant voter registration and early voting and require photo identification at the polls to fight alleged fraud could push minorities, especially Hispanics and African-Americans, away from voting. She claimed that repeated investigations into voter fraud have found very little evidence that it occurs.
The Republican National Committee rejected the charges, however. Officials said there is evidence of voter fraud. In just one popularized case, for example, they note that ACORN—the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now—in 2008 was accused of handling 400,000 fraudulent registrations.
The website, protectingthevote.com, states that “in 2011, a new movement to change the way we vote is under way. Unlike past reforms that sought to expand access to voting, this effort aims to restrict voting purely for partisan gain.”
The website runs through some of the most restrictive new laws in states across the country. The DNC points to laws that “target voter registration drives, cut early voting, repeal election day registration, and create citizen challenges” as the biggest culprits of voter suppression.
The website also has a link to a 73-page report written by the Voting Rights Institute, with help from the DNC. The report singled out Florida as passing some of the most restrictive voting laws, including one law that targets voter-registration drives and another that cuts early voting.
According to the report:
The GOP enacted restrictions on voter registration drives in Florida and Texas, and proposed similar measures in Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, and Mississippi. The new legislation in Florida was by far the GOP’s most extensive effort. In 2010, Republican Governor Rick Scott rode a wave of Tea Party support to victory in the state’s gubernatorial race, joining Republican majorities in the Florida House and Senate. A pinnacle of their collaboration in this year’s legislative session was HB1355, a 158-page omnibus elections overhaul that—in addition to early voting cuts—enacted draconian restrictions on all nongovernmental entities that conduct voter registration.
Under HB1355, any group or individual that conducts voter registration must now (1) register their organization with the Florida Division of Elections prior to conducting registration activities and regularly file onerous reports on all their activities; (2) track and account for voter registration forms using a specially generated number for each document; (3) submit completed voter registration forms to the state within 48 hours (a significant decrease from the previous deadline of 10 days); (4) subject themselves to fines between $50 and $1,000 for registration forms returned to the state after 48 hours; and (5) submit to new enforcement authority from the Florida attorney general.
These restrictions encumber even large and experienced organizations; immediately after HB1355 was passed, the League of Women Voters of Florida suspended its voter registration activities. But these restrictions fall heaviest on small organizations that conduct neighborhood voter registration, lack the capacity to abide by the state’s reporting requirements and tight deadlines, and could be virtually bankrupted under this penalty structure. Already, there are reports of public school teachers who may face huge fines under the new law—all for the supposed offense of helping students register to vote without following each minute requirement of the new law.
Fewer voter registration drives mean fewer voters. But cutting back on voter registration drives does not have the effect of limiting the political participation of all citizens equally. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrates that African American and Hispanic voters are more than twice as likely to register through voter registration drives as are white voters in Florida.
Democrats have also sought congressional investigations in order to address these laws. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla.,requested congressional field hearings into the new laws, asking Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to schedule them. Nelson also sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder requesting that the Justice Department launch an investigation into whether the “new state voting laws resulted from collusion or an orchestrated effort to limit voter turnout.”
Florida is currently waiting for a ruling on the most controversial aspects of H.B. 1355 from a court in the District of Columbia.