Civil Rights Advocates Object as Tougher Voting Laws Set to Take Effect Jan. 1

Voters in four more states will have to present photo IDs; Justice Dept. says tens of thousands of minorities could be disenfranchised.

Posted: 12/27/2011 10:38 AM EST
redistricting, 2012 presidential election, Jesse Jackson Sr., voting rights, 2012 election

As the nation rings in a new year on Sunday, tougher new voting laws are scheduled to go into effect in Kansas, Rhode Island, Tennessee and Texas that will require voters to present state-sanctioned photo ID cards to cast ballots in person. According to a chart prepared by the National Conference of State Legislatures, if voters are unable to show the ID, they will be allowed to cast a provisional ballot but will have to show election officials the requisite identification within a certain period to have their votes counted. At the start of 2011, Georgia and Indiana were the only two states to have such requirements.

Texas voters could have a reprieve because it is one of several mostly Southern states that must receive pre-clearance from the U.S. Justice Department because of a past history of disenfranchising minority voters. That reprieve could prove to be more than temporary now that the Justice Department has rejected South Carolina’s strict new voter ID law.

Last Friday, the agency said that South Carolina’s law could cause tens of thousands of minorities to be turned away at the polls because they lack a state-issued driver’s license or ID card, a U.S. military ID or an American passport. It is the first time in nearly 20 years that the agency has rejected a voter ID law.

"Minority registered voters were nearly 20 percent more likely to lack DMV-issued ID than white registered voters, and thus to be effectively disenfranchised," Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez said in a letter to the state.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley denounced the decision as “outrageous” and said the state will “look at every possible option to get this terrible, clearly political decision overturned so we can protect the integrity of our electoral process and our 10th Amendment rights.”

But Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., a vocal opponent of the new voting laws, which he has likened to the poll taxes of the Jim Crow era, applauded the Justice Department’s move.

"We're fighting wars for democracy overseas and we're fighting democracy at home," Jackson told The Associated Press. "What a contradiction."

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