States and local governments face new voting laws in 2012
A dizzying array of new voting laws will affect state and local governments across the country in the 2012 elections. The measures, many passed last year, require voters to show photo identification, restrict voter registration drives or shorten early voting periods.
The new regulations differ among states, and some measures still could be changed or rejected. Meanwhile, state and local officials are scrambling to implement the new rules.
Six states — South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Mississippi, Kansas and Wisconsin — passed new laws for 2012 requiring voters to show photo identification at the polls. But the Justice Department already has blocked South Carolina’s law, and the laws in Mississippi and Texas also require the department’s approval. New measures also cut back early voting periods in some states. Florida, Illinois and Texas passed laws restricting voter registration drives, according to a report, “Voting Law Changes in 2012,” by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. The range of new laws, according to the report, “could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012.”
Supporters say requiring photo ID and cutting back early voting will prevent election fraud and could boost turnout. “It’s not always fair to group all these changes under that voter suppression umbrella,” says Jennie Bowser, a senior fellow at the Washington-based National Conference of State Legislatures. She cites one example in West Virginia where state legislators say shortening early voting would actually boost participation.
In the meantime, officials have a lot of work to do — educating voters, training poll workers, issuing free IDs — “so that these laws are properly implemented,” Bowser says.