In just the past eighteen months, thirteen states have passed laws that require voters to show ID. In several of those locales, the governor vetoed the bills, but most of the others will likely take effect before this fall's election.
In Missouri the legislature passed another voter ID bill last year that was slated for the ballot this November. But earlier this spring a Cole County judge determined the ballot language was insufficient, and state lawmakers could not come up with new wording prior to the end of the legislative session.
In Texas, which is under federal scrutiny because of past attempts to dupe minorities, the U.S. Department of Justice blocked the measure. Twenty percent of that state's voters are Latino — and are far more likely to lack photo IDs, the feds found. The law, says Camila Gallardo, national spokesperson for the Latino rights organization La Raza, was "an affront to everyone. They are attacking the core of our democracy, which is open participation."
Gallardo was born in Santa Clara, California, to a Cuban American family. She points out that her grandmother, who emigrated from the island long ago, never needed a driver's license or bothered with a passport, but has been allowed to vote in that state because she is a citizen. California is one of the few states that has stayed clear of the great anti-minority backlash.
On the other side of the nation, however, Florida has moved to the top of the class when it comes to discrimination. Federal courts in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., are considering the Republican leadership's attempts to not only outlaw Sunday voting but also severely limit voter registration.
The laws being challenged, for instance, require anyone who helps voters sign up with the state to submit all registration documents within 48 hours. It has proven so difficult to meet those requirements that even groups such as the Boy Scouts of America and the League of Women Voters have given up on registering voters this year.
Among the victims of the Florida law: Jill Cicciarelli, a New Smyrna Beach high school teacher who last year tried to register several of her students. She had been out on maternity leave, ran afoul of the new law and was threatened with thousands of dollars in fines. "I just wanted the kids to be participating in our democracy," she says.
More significant, these laws have had a direct impact on minorities. The number of Latinos registered to vote in Florida, for instance, has fallen by 10 percent since 2008. (Nationally, there are 2 million fewer minority voters now than in 2008.) Florida, says Howard Simon, executive director of the state's ACLU, is attempting to "gut the Voting Rights Act."
Is all of this enough to propel Mitt Romney to victory over Barack Obama? Well, the president received 96 percent of black votes in 2008 and more than two-thirds of the Latino vote. And Florida is the nation's largest swing state. Many of the measures, like those in Arizona, Texas and Minnesota, are under review by courts or face public votes in the future. "The fate of these laws," says the NAACP's Jealous, "will determine that of our country for years to come."
More from "Crossing the Line":
Days of Rage: Phoenix-based Village Voice Media columnist Stephen Lemons suggest that civil disobedience might provide the answer to the immigration debate.
Bordering on Revolution: Village Voice Media executive editor Michael Lacey writes that the Supreme Court's upcoming ruling threatens to divide our nation.
Love the Beans, Hate the Beaner: "Ask a Mexican" columnist Gustavo Arellano notes that Americans' love of south-of-the-border cuisine is at odds with our politics.
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