Earlier this year, my state passed new, tougher election laws, largely along party lines. The Republican-controlled Legislature said they were needed to prevent voter fraud and reduce costs. Democrats said they were meant to make it even harder for the poor, the elderly, the disabled, students and others to vote.
Whatever the reason, it WILL be harder. And not just in land-of-the-hanging-chads Florida, where I live.
The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law recently published an analysis of the restrictions on voting passed so far this year. From the executive summary:
Over the past century, our nation expanded the franchise and knocked down myriad barriers to full electoral participation. In 2011, however, that momentum abruptly shifted.
State governments across the country enacted an array of new laws making it harder to register or to vote. Some states require voters to show government-issued photo identification, often of a type that as many as one in ten voters do not have. Other states have cut back on early voting, a hugely popular innovation used by millions of Americans. Two states reversed earlier reforms and once again disenfranchised millions who have past criminal convictions but who are now taxpaying members of the community. Still others made it much more difficult for citizens to register to vote, a prerequisite for voting.
These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities. This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election. [Emphasis added] Based on the Brennan Center’s analysis of the 19 laws and two executive actions that passed in 14 states, it is clear that:
· These new laws could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.
· The states that have already cut back on voting rights will provide 171 electoral votes in 2012 – 63 percent of the 270 needed to win the presidency.
· Of the 12 likely battleground states, as assessed by an August Los Angeles Times analysis of Gallup polling, five have already cut back on voting rights (and may pass additional restrictive legislation), and two more are currently considering new restrictions.
States have changed their laws so rapidly that no single analysis has assessed the overall impact of such moves. Although it is too early to quantify how the changes will impact voter turnout, they will be a hindrance to many voters at a time when the United States continues to turn out less than two thirds of its eligible citizens in presidential elections and less than half in midterm elections.
Florida, Colorado, California, Indiana and Illinois (the states where most of my readers live) figure prominently in the report. You can read more about it here.
Even if you had no problem voting in the last election, make sure your Supervisor of Elections office still shows you in their records. Where I live in Collier County, FL, you can check this online on the SOE website. For where to go in your county, just Google “register to vote.”
Your signature may have changed since you registered. (Whose hasn’t?) Don’t take chances. Update it. In Collier County, simply fill out a voter registration form online, sign, print and mail it in. This way you won’t risk a hassle at the polls and possibly having to use a provisional ballot.
If you’ve moved within the state but across county lines, you will no longer be able to change your address at the polls. That’s another thing you can easily take care of now.
Take a few minutes today to make sure your voter registration is as it should be: your name, your address, your party affiliation, your signature. While you’re on the SOE website, add the upcoming election days (including early voting days) to your calendar.
And forward this email to everyone you know. The right to vote is too precious to take for granted.