Report: New TX Voter Laws Reflect Major Nationwide Shift
October 11, 2011
SAN JUAN, Texas - New Texas election laws are part of an "abrupt shift" away from decades of expanding voter participation nationwide, according to a new report. Fourteen states this year enacted 21 new measures that could make it "significantly harder" for more than five million eligible Americans to vote next year, according to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice.
The Texas legislature passed a law requiring voters to show specific types of photo IDs, and another that makes voter registration drives more difficult.
Report author Larry Norden, deputy director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program, says politicians long campaigning on the issue of voter fraud finally delivered on their campaign promises.
"I think there really is a significant number of politicians, that are pushing these bills, that really do believe that voter fraud is happening. It just happens that they're wrong. There's no data to support that."
Because of a past history of disenfranchisement, certain changes to Texas electoral laws require federal clearance. For instance, the Justice Department is currently reviewing the new Texas Photo ID law. The Brennan Center has submitted a letter opposing its implementation.
Norden says while measures such as the Texas ID law address nonexistent problems, they will disproportionately disenfranchise minorities, the elderly, students, and voters with disabilities. He thinks opponents of voting restrictions have had a hard time getting traction because the laws affect relatively small numbers of people. In Texas, an estimated 89 percent already have the required documents to vote.
"It doesn't seem like a big deal. The problem is, you're talking about groups that are not among the vast majority. And that's, I think, why there hasn't been the kind of backlash that we might see against other kinds of strict government restrictions on voting."
John-Michael Torres works with the Rio Grande Valley organizing project, La Unión Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE). He says for those who are economically vulnerable, even a small nuisance like standing in line at the DMV to apply for an ID could wind up diminishing their desire to vote.
"If they might take the time off from work, they might end up getting fired or docked pay, and people may decide not to, just based on the fact that it's going to be a burden on their financial situations and on their families."
He says that while groups like his are trying to educate voters about the new requirements, he fears many will show up at the polls unaware of the new law, only to be turned away.
Torres sees the new laws as part of a broader pattern.
"There's already a number of people that are disaffected, that don't vote because they don't see the system functioning, and when politicians continue to decrease the amount of voters, then they're better able to keep control limited to, you know, the hands of a few."
See report at bit.ly/nZWvCn