New voting restrictions in many states could impact election

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU’s School of Law, one of the foremost nonpartisan public-policy institutes focused on justice and democracy, reports that 70 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the 2012 presidential election will now come from states with new restrictive voting laws, a statistic that could greatly affect the voter turnout and outcome of the upcoming election.

Last year, states across the country passed laws levying onerous restrictions on voting rights. The slew of strict voter ID laws and prohibitive voter registration rules have experts warning that marginalized groups could be facing increased barriers to the polls come election day. Critics of these laws warn that women, African Americans, Latinos, students, low-income voters, the elderly and the disabled, could all be forced to participate in less numbers in the upcoming presidential election.

Last year, state lawmakers in Florida passed a controversial overhaul of elections law in the state. House Bill 1355 placed onerous restrictions on third party voter registration, created a shortened “shelf life” for signatures collected for ballot initiatives, placed new restrictions on voters changing their registered addresses on election day, and reduced the number of early voting days.

Supporters of the bill claimed it would help prevent voter fraud in the state. Civil rights groups, third party voter registration groups and many others, however, claimed the bill was a partisan and concerted effort to keep minorities, students and low-income voters from the polls in 2012. Lawsuits aimed at halting the bill’s implementation have cropped up across the state.

Several other states are also on the verge of passing restrictive voting laws

According to a statement from the Brennan Center:

Thirteen states passed, or are on the verge of passing, restrictive voting laws that will impact the 2012 election. The states — Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia — make up 189 electoral votes, or 70 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.

An additional three states — Alabama, Ohio, and Rhode Island — passed restrictive laws that will not be in effect in 2012. Ohioans will vote in November on a referendum to repeal their state’s law.

Research on Florida’s law has already shown negative effects on early voting turnout in this year’s presidential primary and a decrease in voter registration numbers due to the restrictions placed on third party voter registration.

“This wave of restrictive voting laws is inexcusable, and the numbers clearly show the impact it could have on this year’s elections,” Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said in a statement yesterday. “These laws represent the most significant cutback in voting rights in decades. Rather than erecting senseless barriers to voting, we should make our voting system work for all Americans by upgrading our ramshackle voter registration system.”

The U.S. Department of Justice has already began blocking some state laws and, earlier this month, announced it will seek a trial regarding Florida’s controversial elections law overhaul.

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