The new laws to restrict voter access to the polls are unlikely to change before the 2012 election. Republican-controlled legislatures elected in 2010 have systematically changed voting laws across the country—restricting early voting, photo ID, etc.—using their power to disenfranchise blocks of voters that typically support the other party. Voting rights advocates have fought back in a handful of states. In Maine, a repeal of same-day registration that passed earlier this summer will be subjected to a referendum vote next month. But Democrats have little recourse to stop these laws from hitting the books in most states.
There is, however, still hope that the Obama administration will use the executive branch's powers to block a handful of the most egregious changes. Section Five of the Voting Rights Act forces states with a history of discrimination in their voting policies to receive preclearance from the Department of Justice or a federal court before changing their laws, and Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that the DOJ would block voter ID laws.
The states are fighting back, though. Texas and South Carolina have submitted justification for their photo ID laws upon DOJ request, each arguing that the requirement will not have an outsized impact on minority voters. Other states have taken the argument a step further, challenging the Voting Rights Act itself. Earlier this month, the attorney general of Georgia filed a lawsuit in federal court against Section Five. They're not the first state to make that argument this year. Via Rick Hasen, Florida, Arizona, and local governments in Alabama and North Carolina have also sought to overturn the Voting Rights Act through court challenges. These states believe the need for preclearance is based an outdated view of racism.
[Georgia] State Attorney General Sam Olens calls this requirement a scarlet letter for Georgia that’s unfair because it’s based on a racial climate that no longer exists. He says he supports other provisions in the law.
These restrictive voting laws prove the exact opposite. Requiring voters to present a driver's license might seem simple enough for most people, but those who don't have them are disproportionately African American and Latino. Rather than moving past the Voting Rights Act era, the new photo ID laws prove just how necessary that law remains.
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