As the general election campaign season heats up, civil rights groups and other advocates are firing up initiatives to counter the potential effect that voter ID laws in key battleground states could have on African-Americans and others to cast ballots this fall. They include an effort last week to engage members of the Conference of National Black Churches to help individuals register to vote and secure the requisite photo identification card. In addition, as of June 4, organizations and individuals can call the national voter protection hotline, 866-OUR-VOTE, to report any improprieties.
"When they came up with this, they counted on people being indifferent, they counted on people not knowing, they counted on people being so into themselves that they would not even pay attention," said Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law executive director Barbara Arnwine, of Republican-led state legislatures pushing voter ID laws. "They counted on [civil rights] groups being too under-resourced, underfunded and stretched so thin on everything else that they're trying to do. The one thing they didn't count on is us."
Massachusetts: Massachusetts has joined the lineup of states considering mandating voter ID. After an amendment to a midyear budget bill that would require voters to present photo identification at the polls failed, the state's House chamber agreed last week to "study" the issue, including the cost. Opponents of the bill argued that there have not been any cases of voter fraud necessitating such a change. "It makes my heart weep that here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that there would be people in my home state that would want to take away [voting] privileges," said Rep. Benjamin Swan, who helped register disenfranchised Black voters in the South during the civil rights movement.
Florida: Voting rights groups were handed a victory on May 31 when a federal judge struck down "onerous" portions of the state's new voting law that made it more difficult for third-party groups to register voters. "[W]hen a plaintiff loses an opportunity to register a voter, the opportunity is gone forever," U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Hinkle said in his opinion. "And allowing responsible organizations to conduct voter-registration drives — thus making it easier for citizens to register and vote — promotes democracy."
Virginia: Effective July 1, Virginia voters will be required to present a valid photo ID in order to vote. Those who don't will be able to cast a provisional ballot, but they will have to return with the sanctioned ID. A campaign called "Take a Loved One to the DMV" encourages residents to get the necessary ID. They can go to their local motor vehicles office with two forms of documentation, including a birth certificate, passport or recently expired driver's license to get a new ID.
Minnesota: Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters Minnesota have filed a suit protesting a voter ID amendment whose language they say is misleading. "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?" the amendment reads. Opponents argue that it doesn't actually inform voters about potential changes and how they could impact their ability to cast ballots.
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(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)