If Voter ID Laws Are Unfair, Why Do Lawmakers Keep Introducing New Ones?

PHOTO: Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, speaks at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, March 28, 2013.Danny Johnston/AP Photo
Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, speaks at the Arkansas state Capitol in Little Rock, Ark., Thursday, March 28, 2013. The legislature overrode Gov. Mike Beebe's veto of King's legislation that will require voters to show photo identification before casting a ballot.

Politicians in more than half the states in the country have quietly introduced stricter voting laws since the beginning of this year.

In case you're wondering, these voter registration laws vary, but many ask voters to show identification, such as a driver's license, at the polls. They also seek to limit early-voting days. Republican lawmakers have said they are necessary to prevent voter fraud but some civil rights organizations, such as the Advancement Project, say they are designed to prevent minorities, who skew Democratic, from voting. That's because minority voters are less likely to have the types of identification many of the laws require and they often rely on the early voting days some of these laws aim to cut.

In the run-up to the 2012 presidential election, a number of states attempted to push this kind of law by arguing that they had an obligation to limit voter fraud. But in-person voter ID fraud, the type most of the laws are designed to prevent, is almost nonexistent.

And yet, there are at least 75 bills that were introduced in 30 states this year. Of those bills, more than 25 are being actively considered, according to a new analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law. A few are even already in effect.

Virginia and Arkansas have both passed laws this year that require voters to show a photo ID to cast a ballot. While Arkansas' governor vetoed that state's law, the legislature overrode the veto this week. Virginia's voter ID initiative has been signed into law.

A big reason some of these latest attempts to introduce voter legislation have gone relatively unnoticed is voter fatigue. (The 2012 election cycle was a long one.) According to Myrna Perez, deputy director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program, this push for these laws at this time is intentional.

"Partisan actors are trying to manipulate the rules of the game to make sure certain people can vote and certain people can't," she said, "and one of our goals is to encourage people to find this unacceptable."

But that's not to say there hasn't already been some pushback. Just this week, the Brennan Center notes, voters in Wisconsin supported a referendum to keep the state's same-day registration law in place. The Florida House voted last month to reverse early voting restrictions it put in place in 2012, and the New Hampshire House decided to stop implementation of voter ID requirements until state officials can complete an impact study.

President Barack Obama has also launched a bipartisan commission last week to develop a guide to help states and local officials improve voters' experiences at the polls.

Denise Lieberman, senior attorney for the Advancement Project's Voter Protection Program, and Perez both said voter rights groups have an obligation to continue to make voter rights a priority and that their organizations will continue to push back against restrictive voter ID laws.

"Voter ID is back in the saddle in places that have debated this hotly already," Lieberman said. "We're not out of the woods, yet."