With less than six months to go before the November elections, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle continue to implement or fight new voting laws. Virginia and Pennsylvania, which now have implemented new voter ID laws, have not gone as far as other states, and Pennsylvania continues to refine the process to make it easier for voters to comply. President Obama’s re-election campaign and congressional Democrats also have unveiled efforts to help ensure that all eligible voters will be able to have their say at the polls this fall.
South Carolina: Democratic state senators in South Carolina failed in their attempt to strip from the state’s 2012-'13 budget funding for a lawsuit challenging the Justice Department’s decision to block its voter ID law. DOJ says the law could disenfranchise minorities, prompting the state’s Attorney General Alan Wilson to file a suit that could cost $1 million.
Virginia: The Commonwealth of Virginia is the latest state to join the growing list of states adopting stricter voting rules. The new law requires voters to show ID before casting ballots, but it is weaker than many of the laws passed in other states. Voters, for example, will be able to present a utility bill or a Virginia student ID card. The state’s Board of Elections also will send every registered voter a new voter card before the November elections.
Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania is trying to make it “quicker and easier” for voters to secure the documentation they need to get the state-sanctioned photo ID card that will be required to vote in November. Residents who were born in the state can go to a PennDOT motor license center, fill out a one-page form and their birth records will be electronically verified by the Department of Health. Applicants will be notified by mail in about ten weeks when they can come in to pick up their ID cards and will need to bring their Social Security card and at least two proofs of residence, such as a utility bill or a lease. Before, they had to wait ten weeks and pay a $10 fee to get a paper copy of their birth certificate.
Gotta Vote: Obama for America has launched a new online tool called GottaVote.org, which is designed to help voters deal with new photo ID and other requirements that could affect their ability to cast ballots. The site provides detailed information about how and when to register and collects phone numbers and email addresses so it can remind voters when it’s time to register. "Unfortunately, Republican-led legislatures in many states have been taking us backward not forward," said Michael Blake, deputy director of the campaign's voter outreach initiative. "We can't take anything for granted. We want to start as early possible to make people aware of these changes."
House Democrats: Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives last week introduced the Voter Empowerment Act, which aims to modernize voter registration systems and counter efforts to disproportionately disenfranchise low-income, student, elderly and minority voters. It would establish a national hotline to report voting programs and require a 15-day early voting period for all federal elections. "The ability to vote should be easy, accessible and simple. Yet there are practices and laws in place that make it harder to vote today than it was even one year ago. We should be moving toward a more inclusive democracy, not one that locks people out," said Georgia Rep. John Lewis, one of the bill’s sponsors.
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