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Barrier to the Polls: New State Voter Laws

Barrier to the Polls: New State Voter Laws

MustShowIDToVote.jpgSince last November, more than a dozen states have passed laws restricting voter access and eligibility for upcoming elections. State legislatures say the new restrictions will limit occurrences of voter fraud. Opponents, however, argue the laws are targeted to discourage or block eligible citizens from casting their votes, especially poor, young and African-American voters.

A new study released by the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law suggests that laws that require voters to show photo identification at polls, reduce the number of early voting days or impose new restrictions on voter registration days could impact the ability of 5 million eligible voters to cast their ballots in 2012. In a hearing on the state laws last month, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) predicted the laws will disenfranchise traditionally marginalized and underprivileged communities, "[making] it harder for millions of disabled, young, minority, rural, elderly, homeless and low-income Americans to vote."

Photo identification laws are perhaps the most controversial. Thirty states currently have voter identification laws, with fourteen of them specifically requiring photo ID.

Supporters of the new photo ID laws ask why people must show photo ID at the airport, but not at the polls. But that argument is flawed. While there have been numerous instances of individuals who have posed or attempted to pose as another person to illegally cross borders, transport goods, or commit acts of terrorism, there has been no such established pattern or threat in our modern electoral system. Supporters of voter ID laws have not presented evidence to fully support any other argument; in fact, at times they have resorted to citing outdated instances of election fraud perpetrated by corrupt politicians--instances of fraud that could not have been prevented by the very same voter identification laws being proposed.

Another crucial example of this fallacy can be found in the state of Indiana, which passed one of the nation's strictest voter ID laws in 2005. The law was challenged in the courts but was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008. After reviewing the 250 instances of election fraud filed in the briefs, the Brennan Center found only nine instances of people allegedly voting in someone else's name. The hundreds of remaining instances of fraud included vote buying, ballot-box stuffing, problems with absentee ballots, or ex-convicts voting even though laws bar them from doing so--again, none of which could have been prevented by the voter ID law now in place.

We must work to ensure all eligible citizens the opportunity to vote freely, not force them through unnecessary red tape to fix a problem that does not exist.

Do you live in a state with a voter ID law? Have you or someone you know been prevented or discouraged from voting due to these measures? Share your story in the comments section or on the RAC's Facebook page.

Published: 10/04/2011

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