Big changes could be coming to the polls for the 2012 elections, worrying both voters and politicians alike. In what is being touted as an effort to prevent voting fraud, many states have recently passed laws that require voters to present government-issued photo identification at polls. Some states have also enacted laws that shorten early voting periods and restrict timing of voter registration drives. There is little evidence these policies would have an effect on curbing voter fraud in the United States, and these laws are likely to only stop eligible people from voting.
The Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law released a study this week that analyzed 19 laws and two executive orders pertaining to voter identification in 14 states. The study suggests that voting could become more difficult for more than 5 million eligible voters in 2012 under the new laws, and the number of states adopting new voting policies is rising.
According to the study, five states passed laws seeking to decrease the number of opportunities voters have to cast their ballot before Election Day. This disregards the fact that some churches organize voting drives on Sundays prior to the standard Tuesday Election Day to encourage members of their congregations to cast their ballots. Maine and Ohio no longer permit voters to register on Election Day, even though about 60,000 new voters registered in Maine on Election Day in 2008. In response, residents in Maine and Ohio are looking to overturn these laws.
The biggest concern is that these laws could potentially prevent minorities, young people and the poor from voting. While some politicians have claimed the new laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud, they cite little evidence to prove incidents of fraud would decrease.
Americans struggle to get to the polls with the current regulations in place. The 2008 election broke voting records with a 64 percent voter turnout and 130 million votes cast. If one of the most polarizing elections in recent history can’t even get two-thirds of eligible voters to the polls, then making the process even more challenging could seriously reduce the number of ballots cast in 2012.
While states have ensured they will provide free identification cards if the laws are passed, the likelihood that all voters who need them will seek them out is slim. Instead, these people — an estimated 3.2 million eligible voters — will most likely decide not to vote. If the U.S. is to function as a true democracy, where all eligible voters are reasonably able to vote, then these laws should not be passed.
The investigation into fraudulent voting should continue and states should take reasonable measures to address any problems they may discover. However, if these laws are simply an effort to deter certain voters from heading to the polls, then they should be repealed immediately and prevented from taking effect in the future.