States With Strict Voter Photo ID Laws More Than Tripled In 2011

It is almost one year to the day that Americans will head to the polls for the 2012 election, but for residents in seven states, casting those ballots could be a bit more difficult than in the last go-round.

New laws requiring voters to show photo identification are set to take effect in Kansas, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. And Democrats, who as a party are staunchly opposed to voter ID laws, are already ramping up their efforts to combat the new laws.

“I lose sleep over voter suppression,” said Rep. Steve Israel, D-NY. “I lose sleep over the fact that the Republicans have said and they are embarked on a strategy that could deny millions of voters their right to go to the polls and actually vote for a candidate.”

Israel, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said Friday that his committee is planning a “a major voter protection initiative” to “make sure that every American that has the right to vote is able to vote.”

Israel was one of 196 House Democrats who signed a letter last week urging secretaries of state to “oppose these partisan efforts to hinder access to the ballot,” as Rep. House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer said in a statement announcing the letter.

“Democracy’s at stake,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted Friday, along with a link to the letter.

Prior to 2011, there were only two states with strict photo ID laws, Georgia and Indiana. Over the course of the year, four states tightened their existing ID laws to now require photos and three passed new voter ID laws.

In Texas, for example, where voters in past years have had to show some form of identification, they will now have to provide a government-issued photo ID.

“The rationale behind showing a picture ID to vote, it is something that adds an added step of integrity and security to the voting process and helps cut down on any fraud,” said Chris Elam, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Texas.

Elam pointed out that the law includes a “laundry list” of exemptions for people who may have a hard time obtaining the required identification, such as living more than 50 miles away from the nearest Division of Motor Vehicles.

A report from New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice showed that in Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin, all of which will enact stricter photo ID laws before the 2012 election, 3.2 million potential voters do not have the state-issued ID that will be required for them to vote.

Lawrence Norden, an author of the Brennan Center report, said he “absolutely” thinks the new ID laws could impact the outcome of the election.

“We’re not claiming that all 3.2 million, in the case of voter ID laws, are actually not going to be able to vote,” Norden said. “But what we are saying is, it’s going to make it harder for those people to vote and some portion of them are probably not going to be able to vote even though they want to.”