Some states are making it tougher to vote

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Folks, it’s getting even nastier.

Thousands of people who have been voting for years and college students eager to vote will find themselves shut out next year. More than a dozen state legislatures in such key battleground states as Florida have been kicking aside eased voting procedures.

Although the laws vary, the obvious aim is to make it tougher for minorities and young people to vote. For example, Texas now permits registered voters to present at the polls either a valid driver’s license or passport or a letter from a government agency, a utility bill or even a paycheck. The new law would require current government photo identification. For example, an expired passport would not be acceptable. A college ID would not suffice, although a permit to carry a concealed handgun would be acceptable.

Julian Bond of the NAACP says that older African Americans who were born during segregation in the South may not have a birth certificate and even though they may have been voting for years will be denied their right to vote next year.

Rock the Vote, which works to get young people registered, says the new laws will keep thousands of students from voting and believes it is because they tend to be liberal. Rock the Vote tells young people: “There is a war on voting going on and your rights are under attack. Politicians are trying to block young people from voting with shady new photo ID and residency laws. They are getting rid of things that make it easier for people to vote, like Election Day registration, early voting and pre-registration laws. … In America, we rock the vote, we don’t block the vote.”

The rash of new restrictions might be justified if the nation faced a barrage of fraudulent voting. But it doesn’t. There is only one case being adjudicated. Florida’s new law, which not only requires a photo ID but one with a signature or two valid IDs, was passed in a state with fewer than three dozen allegations of fraud. Supporters of the law say they are being preemptive rather than reactive.

Florida’s law also bans voting on Sunday, limits early voting days and limits voter registration drives. Florida Democrats are furious, saying the law is designed to disenfranchise low-income Hispanics, blacks, senior citizens and young workers for whom getting to the polls can be arduous or mean lost wages.

A few hanging chads in Florida decided the 2000 election; an effort to suppress minority voting in Florida again could make a difference in the nationwide outcome next year if the election is close.

Lawsuits not ruled out

So far, the Democratic National Committee has not filed lawsuits to block the new laws but has not ruled that out. Democrats are embarking on education efforts to let voters know what forms of identification they will need to show at the polls.

Many fear that successful efforts to make voting more difficult will discourage people from even making an effort to vote — a subtle form of disenfranchisement. State legislatures have passed restrictive voting laws in Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Maine, Rhode Island, Texas, Kansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. North Carolina, Missouri and Pennsylvania are considering new restrictions.

There are efforts to curb the laws. Maine will return to Election Day registration, for example. And restrictive laws were blocked in Oregon, Montana, Minnesota, Vermont, Virginia, Nebraska, Colorado, New Mexico, Arkansas and Iowa.

A woman interviewed on television said she has gotten along without a government ID because her birth certificate does not have her first name. She said she’s been told it will take a year to prove she is who she knows she is, but she sadly doubts she’ll be able to vote for president in 2012. How ironic that as the United States demands democracy and free elections around the world, politicians here are trying to tamp down voting in America.

Ann McFeatters is a Scripps Howard columnist who has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. Email: amcfeatters@nationalpress.com.