Voters’ rights are being threatened all across the United States. In an effort to combat voter fraud, 24 voting restrictions have passed in 17 different states over the past year. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, 74 more such laws were on the table as of April. These laws range from mandating voters show photo identifications or proof of citizenship to barring convicted felons who have been released from prison.
How does one prove they’re a citizen exactly? You have to bring a document such as your birth certificate, a U.S. passport of U.S. naturalization requirements, certain tribal IDs, or a driver’s or nondriver’s ID with a notation that the person submitted proof of U.S. citizenship. But this can cause problems. For instance: What if you don’t have a driver’s license? And according to the Brennan Center, only 48 percent of women have their current legal name printed on their birth certificates. Mother Jones reports that 25 percent of blacks don’t have a valid photo ID, along with 20 percent of Asians, 19 percent of Latinos and 15 percent of adults earning less than $35,000.
In a competitive election year, if even a few voters are denied their right to vote through obtrusive voter identification laws, it could alter the outcome of the race. We at “The War Room” decided to highlight three states with especially restrictive voting laws. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll also show you the organizations you can contact to help make a difference in those states. Although there are several states with onerous voting laws passed or on the table, just remember: This is a list with no real winners.
Beginning on Jan. 1 of this year, all residents of the Volunteer State must now present both proof of citizenship and a photo ID when they show up at the polls. Are you a college student? Sorry, your college ID won’t cut it. Absentee voters are an exception to the rule — but that’s assuming you’re able to vote absentee. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed S.B. 923 in June, which shortens the amount of time you have to register as absentee by two days. If there’s any “bright” side to these restrictions, it’s that Tennesee’s proof-of-citizenship requirement applies only to residents already considered to be potential noncitzens. The process of determining a potential noncitizen might be a whole other can of worms, of course.
Twelve years after the notorious 2000 election recount, voting in the Sunshine State continues to cause problems. In 2011, Florida prevented ex-felons from being able to vote until five years after they had completed their sentence. Then, HB 1355 cut the amount of time allowed for absentee voting nearly in half, from two weeks to eight days. On top of that, it also stopped voters from changing their address at the voting booth. The restrictions on voter registration groups are so tough that the League of Women voters dropped their registration plan altogether. Ouch. Many of Florida’s voting laws are still under review by the courts, however.
Republican Governor Tom Corbett signed a law earlier this year requiring voters to show photo IDs. The problem is that more than 758,000 registered Pennsylvania voters — 9.2 percent of the state’s population — don’t have driver’s licenses, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. In that sense, the law could bar nearly 10 percent of the state’s registered voters from the voting booth.
If you don’t live in Pennsylvania and want to know what you can do to help, a nonpartisan group called the Committee of Seventy has created the Pennsylvania ID Coalition. It’s composed of 80 organizations that have convened to provide education about the state’s new law. If you’d like more information on joining the coalition, you can visit their website, email Luke McKinstry or call (215) 557-3600, ext. 112.
And for more on what’s happening in Pennsylvania, we’ll be talking tonight with Philadelphia City Commission Chair Stephanie Singer. Tune in to “The War Room” tonight at 9/6p, and be sure to join the discussion on Twitter and Facebook and to share your comments below.