New State Voting Laws Roll Back Civil Rights Clock
September 20, 2011 - Posted by The Leadership Conference
At a Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights hearing last week, senators and civil and human rights organizations expressed concern over what one witness called an assault on voting rights comparable to the Jim Crow era.
The hearing focused on the recent wave of state legislation that will restrict voters’ access to the polls, disenfranchising millions of voters.
The new voting laws include, but are not limited to, requiring voters to show government-issued IDs, shortening the early voting period, enforcing stricter fines and penalties on voter registration groups, and restricting poll workers from helping voters.
According to the testimony, these requirements are likely to produce a negative and disproportionate impact on traditionally underrepresented voters – particularly African Americans, Latinos, students, people with disabilities, low-income Americans, and seniors.
Witnesses, including Rep. Charles Gonzalez, D. Texas, Rep Emanuel Cleaver, D. Miss., Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Brown Dianis, and Justin Levitt of Loyola Law School, testified in opposition to the passage of these laws, and the subsequent disenfranchisement of American voters.
The congressional witnesses were particularly concerned with the regressive nature of the requirements. Rep. Gonzalez warned in his opening statement: “we cannot turn to the dark days of the past.” Rep. Cleaver emphasized “our moral imperative to protect the right to vote” against the “onslaught of voter suppression laws.”
“These new repressive voting laws undermine the fabric of our democracy by limiting participation. Congress must act to ensure that all Americans have a voice,” said Dianis, whose organization, The Advancement Project, issued a report in April analyzing the proposals in each state and the efforts to roll back ballot access.
“Supporters of these requirements spuriously claim IDs are a meaningful tool for fraud prevention,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, in written testimony to the subcommittee. However, the new state voting laws are “nothing less than an all out assault on the progress of the last century… on the very legacy of the civil and human rights movement,” he said.