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Voter ID Laws: The New Poll Tax

For anyone who thought legal disenfranchisement was a thing of the past, think again. The 2012 campaign season — which will pick up speed in the wake of the elections held around the country today — may well bring the harshest attack on voting rights in decades. As evidenced by a new video released today by the Advancement Project and Brave New Films, a blitz of new voter identification restrictions has flooded state legislatures, threatening to disenfranchise millions of voters who don’t have the money, transportation or paperwork to secure necessary IDs.

A report from the Brennan Center for Justice finds that the majority of these voters are from groups traditionally viewed as part of the Democratic base. But whatever their party affiliation, the new legislation stands to limit the participation of millions of African-American, Latino, young and elderly voters.

The numbers don’t lie. According to a report from our partners at the Advancement Project, the new laws could disenfranchise 21 million Americans and cost taxpayers $20 million in free IDs. This at a time when state budgets are already strapped. Last month, one news report explained how those targeted by this new wave of restrictions are the same populations that are particularly vulnerable to political, social and economic neglect. For example, a quarter of Black citizens nationwide do not hold the proper state-issued photo ID required under the new state laws. What used to be achieved through poll taxes and literacy tests is now the work of conservative state legislators and governors. In South Carolina, 61-year-old Willie Blair, an African-American farmer, was recently featured on NPR describing the bureaucratic nightmare to which he’s been exposed because of the new restrictions.

If all this sounds like an orchestrated effort to restrict voting rights in key battleground states nationwide, that’s because it is. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative advocacy group backed by the billionaire Koch brothers and corporations, is the key architect of legislation that’s been introduced in 34 states this year as a panacea to the specter of “voter fraud” that conservatives often get worked up about as election season nears. But when NPR asked a spokesman for the South Carolina State Election Commission if voter fraud was cause for concern, the official responded that there have been no recorded or confirmed cases in the state’s recent history. Advancement Project has written extensively about the myth of voter fraud, asserting that state ID requirements would fail to address the rare improper voting case that crops up.

The U.S. has a problem with voter turnout, not with voter fraud. Only 64% of eligible voters went to the polls in 2008 and 2004. That’s why the video being distributed today by Advancement Project and Brave New Films is so important. It documents the massive attack being waged on our voting rights right now, and points the way toward a range of election protection and Get Out the Vote efforts that racial justice and progressive organizations can take up in the next year. It’s time for all of us to step up, and to begin right now. It’s the only way we can make sure that voters are not deprived of their right to be heard in 2012 and beyond.

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Rashad Robinson

Rashad Robinson