As Ari Berman detailed last month in Rolling Stone, Republican state legislators and governors in a dozen states have been busy this year passing laws that make it harder for voters – overwhelmingly, Democratic voters – to cast their ballots. The measures, from voter ID requirements to cutting back on early voting to curtailing voter registration drives, may seem disconnected, but they add up, wrote Berman, to "an unprecedented, centrally coordinated campaign to suppress the elements of the Democratic vote that elected Barack Obama in 2008." As Bill Clinton, quoted in Berman's piece, says, "There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and all the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today."
A new study out today from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law reckons up how many voters will likely be affected. The center looked at 19 laws that passed and 2 executive orders that were issued in 14 states this year. Their conclusion: the laws "could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012," causing Michael Waldman, the executive director of the Brennan Center, to call the new laws "the most significant rollback in voting rights in decades."
As Berman shows, the vast majority of these voters will be Democrats – students, minorities, immigrants, ex-convicts and the elderly. Republicans, who've passed almost all of the new election laws, say they are necessary to prevent voter fraud. But as Berman wrote, there's simply "no evidence to back up such outlandish claims. A major probe by the Justice Department between 2002 and 2007 failed to prosecute a single person for going to the polls and impersonating an eligible voter, which the anti-fraud laws are supposedly designed to stop. Out of the 300 million votes cast in that period, federal prosecutors convicted only 86 people for voter fraud."
What's really going on, as Bill Clinton, quoted in Berman's piece, says, is "one of the most pervasive political movements going on outside Washington today ... [a] disciplined, passionate, determined effort of Republican governors and legislators to keep most of you from voting next time. Why is all of this going on? This is not rocket science. They are trying to make the 2012 electorate look more like the 2010 electorate than the 2008 electorate"