by Jeremy Leaming
Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott has attracted plenty of attention for his heavy-handed attempt to purge “noncitizens” from the voter rolls. But that voter purge, which the Department of Justice has ordered the state to halt, is only part of that state’s Republican-led effort to suppress voter turnout.
A relatively new Florida law, H.B. 1355, created onerous restrictions on voter-registration drives, cut early voting opportunities and created new burdensome voter identification requirements. Similar laws have been enacted in other states with Republicans in charge, such as Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin. In all those states, Republicans claim widespread voter fraud is the justification for the onerous restrictions.
Civil liberties groups, such as Brennan Center, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), ACLU, however, argue that voter fraud is practically nonexistent, and thus a blatantly lame excuse for the new laws. This is really an effort to suppress the vote of minorities, college students, and the poor.
A new ACS Issue Brief by Loyola Law School Professor Justin Levitt examines the new Florida law, concluding that “these burdens are not only real and inequitable but also unnecessary, which renders them suspect as a matter of constitutional law and fundamentally flawed as a matter of public policy. Not only do they make it more difficult for eligible Americans to vote, but they do so without any meaningful benefit.”
Levitt’s Issue Brief, “The New Wave of Election Regulation: Burden Without Benefit,” details how Florida’s new law disproportionately burdens minority voters, saying that it is now very likely non-Hispanic white voter turnout will remain much higher than minority voters in 2012. In 2008, Levitt notes that a persistent gap between minority voters and non-Hispanic white voters had substantially narrowed for the first time.
The restrictions on early voting and the new voter identification requirements are likely to sharply restrict minority, low-income and elderly voters. The “available date clearly show that those without government-issued photo ID are more likely to be nonwhite, more likely to either younger voters or seniors, and more likely to be from low-income households, and more likely to have less formal education,” Levitt states.