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Election 2012 is not for another three months, but already, an existential struggle over state voter ID laws is brewing—one that could help decide who wins the White House and determine who is allowed to participate in American politics.
On one side stands groups like Mi Familia Vota and Voto Latino, which are busy registering and turning out voters, fully aware of how important demographics like the Latino vote will be this November in key states like Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, and Virginia.
On the other stands groups that seek to suppress these voters, including legislators behind strict voter ID laws in states like Pennsylvania, Florida, and Virginia. As Raul Reyes at NBC Latino writes today:
Ten states have strict laws requiring voters to show photo identification in order to vote. Supporters of Voter ID laws say they protect against fraud, while critics say these laws suppress the votes of minorities and the poor. There are myriad reasons to oppose the intent, design, and effect of these laws. Voter ID laws accomplish nothing beyond making it harder for eligible citizens to vote.
For starters, our country does not have a voter fraud problem. In 2011, the Republican National Lawyers Association listed 400 voter fraud prosecutions over the last decade. That works out to less than one case per state per year. A five-year investigation by the Bush Department of Justice found virtually no evidence of voter fraud. In Pennsylvania, the state government concedes there has not been any voter fraud in the state. None.
If voter fraud is nearly nonexistent, why are voter ID laws so popular this year? Republicans are quick to claim that there must be some kind of organized system to voting, that we must require people to present ID to vote because we require it of them when they board a plane or rent a car. But Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai gave away the real game this year when he was reported saying that Pennsylvania’s vote ID law “will enable Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.” Republicans know how important the Latino and minority vote will be this year. And instead of competing for it, they’re choosing to try and suppress it.
Why should people care? As Reyes writes today, “The big deal is that boarding a plane or renting sports equipment is not a Constitutional right. Voting is.” NYU’s Brennan Center is estimating that more than half a million US citizens will not have the ID necessary to vote. Eleven percent of the voting age population lacks current, government issued photo ID. And Nate Silver of the New York Times’ 538 blog has said that voter ID laws can reduce turnout in an election by as much as 2% — more than enough of a game-changing margin in key battleground states like Florida.
Digby at Hullaballoo writes this summary of why people should be more up-in-arms about unnecessary voter ID crackdowns:
If there is nothing else that can convince thinking people that the Republicans are a malevolent, anti-democratic Party, this should. There is no evidence, none, that there is any election voter fraud, much less a systemic enough problem to turn elections, but there is ample evidence that if you make people go through ridiculous hoops to vote, a lot of them will give up. That’s the point, that’s what they’re trying to do, everyone knows it.