Lawmakers in Congress Step Up Efforts to Counter States' Harsh New Voting Laws

November 3, 2011

by Jeremy Leaming

State efforts to hamper voter registration are finally attracting the attention of lawmakers in Congress. Earlier this week Reps. John Conyers Jr. and Jerrold Nadler urged the House Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on the new laws, which they say are aimed at suppressing the vote. The lawmakers cited a recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice that the new voter registration laws, primarily hatched by Republican-controlled legislatures, “could make it significantly harder for more than five million eligible voters to cast ballots in 2012."

Today, House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (pictured) and Ranking Member of the House Administration Committee Robert Brady sent a letter, signed by nearly 200 of their colleagues to state officials “urging them to oppose new state measures adopted over the last year that would make it harder for eligible voters to register or vote.”

In a recent piece for Slate, Risa L. Goluboff and Dahlia Lithwick wrote about the slew of new rigid voter registration laws, noting, “Thirty-eight states have instituted new rules prohibiting same-day registration and early voting on Sundays,” and in Tennessee ominous “letters blanket black neighborhoods warning that creditors and police officers will check would-be voters at the polls, or that elections are taking place on the wrong day.”

The proponents of the rigid new laws say, as they have over and over again, that rampant voter fraud is the reason for these changes. Critics of the new laws counter that no evidence exists to support the claim that voter fraud is a problem – as Goluboff and Lithwick write, these efforts are all about eradicating a “problem that is statistically rarer than heavy-metal bands with exploding drummers ….”

The new voter regulations are in reality yet another disgusting, coordinated movement to keep African Americans, the youth and poor people from voting. Goluboff and Lithwick ask, “So why shouldn’t the proponents of draconian new voting laws have to answer for their ugly history?”

No answer will be forthcoming, but lawmakers, such as Conyers, Nadler, Hoyer and Brady are raising awareness of the ignoble state efforts to undermine democracy, and urge authorities at the state level to take action to ensure that all people, regardless of race, age and station in life, can exercise their constitutional right to vote.

As the letter spearheaded by Hoyer and Brady states, “public officials on all levels of government should be striving to facilitate [Americans] right to vote, not make it more difficult.”

[image via Center for American Progress Action Fund]