When Martin Luther King Jr. famously observed in 1968 that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” he was perhaps partly reflecting on the passage — just three years earlier — of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which outlawed discriminatory voting practices designed to disenfranchise
Yet today, nearly 50 years later, America is sadly witnessing a renewed assault on voting rights. But this assault is not confined to the states of the old Confederacy; it is being waged in a majority of the so-called “swing states” that will determine the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. Most political analysts agree that Florida, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada and Colorado are this year’s key battlegrounds. As we shall see, Republicans in six of these nine states are actively pursuing restrictive voting laws.
While the particulars of the voter suppression effort vary from state to state — photo ID laws in some states; a reduction in early voting hours in others — the overall impact is severe enough to cause observers like The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen to suggest we are “bending the arc of history away from justice.”
What accounts for these voter suppression efforts? Who is pushing them and how successful have they been?
The answer to the first question is voter turnout in the 2008 elections. That year, a record 61.6% of eligible voters turned out, not only propelling Barack Obama into the White House (with 53% of the popular vote and a landslide in the Electoral College), but also electing Democratic majorities in both the U.S. House and Senate. Republicans, of course, were not happy.
So when the political winds shifted in 2010 and Republicans not only retook control of the U.S. House — but more importantly, gained 11 new Governorships and majorities in 20 state legislatures — they began a concerted and coordinated effort to strip millions of people from the voting rolls before the 2012 election. Naturally, they focused on those whom they suspected would be most likely to support Democrats — minorities, students, the poor, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
And let there be no mistake: the Republican voter suppression effort has been both aggressive and successful. Since 2011, at least 180 bills have been introduced in 41 state legislatures that aim to restrict voting. In 17 states, these legislative or executive actions have the potential to influence the 2012 elections. Literally millions of Americans, all of whom have a constitutionally-protected right to vote, have effectively been disenfranchised.
Though courts have overturned a few of the most egregious suppression efforts, the bulk of these new laws remain in place. This analysis will focus on and summarize the disenfranchisement gambits in six battleground states: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Hampshire and Wisconsin. Since these six together account for a total of 94 electoral votes, suppressing the vote in them could well determine who will become America’s next President.
Read the Report Here
Visit our Ohio Voter Rights Information Page. You’ll find an infographic that links to a timeline showing the rise – and current fall – of voter rights and easy access to the ballot in Ohio. You’ll also find links to important documents and an archive of IO’s blog posts and other information on the subject.
Read our Press Release Here