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Outside editorial: New laws imperil voting rights in some states

Posted: December 20, 2011 - 1:02am

The following editorial appeared in the San Jose Mercury News:

There are lots of ways to win an election. Earning a good reputation. Campaigning relentlessly. Making sure your supporters get out to vote.

Or, you can try to keep your opponents’ supporters from voting.

This appears to be what’s behind restrictive voting laws cropping up in some states, mainly in places where young, minority voters came out in force for Barack Obama in 2008. Fortunately, last week Attorney General Eric Holder put states on notice that he would be examining these laws for their potential to violate the federal Voting Rights Act.

Eight states, including Texas, where Holder spoke Tuesday, are requiring state-issued photo identification at the polls. Those who do not have driver’s licenses — many urban dwellers, low-income young people, the elderly — will have an extra step of securing an ID before they can vote. Florida has shortened the time for early voting, making it less convenient and, one might assume, discouraging people who work multiple jobs and have complicated schedules.

The need for these laws is specious. The old Chicago trick of raiding the cemeteries for the names of deceased voters lives on in legend more than practice. There is no evidence of voter fraud being a significant problem today: Only about 300 cases have been prosecuted in the nation in the past decade.

Rooting out a minuscule percentage of fraudulent votes is not worth making voting harder for people in general.

Holder thinks registration should be automatic when citizens reach 18. That makes sense. The more people vote, the more they feel connected to and responsible for their government and their communities. Limiting voter turnout may help a particular cause or party, but there is no benefit to democracy.

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