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Defeat GOP attempt to suppress the vote

Last modified: 10/5/2011 12:00:00 AM
Nationally, more than 5 million Americans could be denied their right to vote by a clever scheme and a fraudulent idea: the contention by Republicans that protecting against virtually nonexistent voter fraud justifies erecting barriers to the ballot box. The disenfranchised will disproportionately be the young, the elderly, the disabled, the poor and minorities, groups that tend to vote for Democrats.

That estimate was contained in a study released Monday by New York University Law School's Brennan Center for Justice, which measured the likely impact of voting law changes in 14 states that include presenting a government-issued photo ID to receive a ballot.

The restrictive laws were designed to affect the outcome of elections. Unless they are countered by a massive voter registration effort, that's exactly what will happen. We urge everyone who treasures the right to vote of all citizens, rich or poor, to work to overturn the restrictive laws - but first to help their fellow Americans comply with them. Help someone without one get a photo ID or contribute to organizations that conduct voter registration drives. In New Hampshire, Gov. John Lynch vetoed legislation that would have required photo identification to vote, but Republican lawmakers plan to try again, if not next year then once Lynch is gone.

Like the plot to convince lawmakers to enact right-to-work legislation, the photo ID campaign was the work of a business-backed conservative group, in this case the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Some 30 states, including New Hampshire, have considered or enacted voting law changes. In addition to photo ID measures, states have passed laws requiring a birth certificate to register to vote, reducing the time period for early absentee voting and restricting or denying the right to vote of felons who have served their time.

Texas passed a law similar to the one Lynch vetoed, which would have required citizens without a valid ID to vote on a provisional ballot and return later with proof of citizenship. That law - which Gov. Rick Perry, now a presidential candidate, deemed to be emergency legislation - does not recognize student identification cards but does grant the vote to people who present a handgun license.

Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, calls defending the ability of minorities, the young and the poor to vote the most important civil rights issue in the country. He's right.

"Right now," Jealous told an interviewer, "we are facing the biggest, most aggressive attempt to roll back voting rights in this country since 1896. Voter ID laws are the biggest component of that, and like the poll taxes before them, they are a widespread way to put in a financial or, in this case, a logistical barrier to people voting."

The Brennan Center's study found that voting law changes in just 12 states likely to be battlegrounds in the next presidential election could suppress the vote enough to affect the outcome of 171 electoral votes, 63 percent of the 270 needed to become president. Only a massive voter registration effort can prevent an attempt to steal elections by making it harder for minorities and the poor to vote.


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