Americans' most sacred right—the right at the core of our democracy—is the right to vote. That's why, over the years, leaders of both parties have worked to make it easier for Americans to make their voices heard. Today, Americans can not only cast a ballot on Election Day, they can vote early or by mail—expansions that maintain the integrity of our democratic process while inviting more Americans to participate. But those voting rights are under attack.
Across the country, Republicans are working to restrict Americans' right to vote by enacting laws that curb when and how they can register to vote and go to the polls. For example, Republicans in Maine's legislature have voted to end Election Day registration, a widely popular practice that, in 2008 alone, allowed 60,000 Mainers to register to vote. [Check out a roundup of GOP political cartoons.]
In preparation for the 2012 presidential election, Republicans in the swing states of Ohio, Florida, and North Carolina have or are seeking to reduce early voting. Proposed legislation in Ohio would shrink the state's early voting window by more than two thirds; in North Carolina, it would not only reduce the time period in which busy, working Americans could vote, it would cost more than the current system. And in my home state of Florida, early voting days were eliminated as part of a 158-page bill that also enacted onerous restrictions and steep fines on organizations that conduct voter registration drives. [See a slide show of the 2012 GOP contenders.]
These kinds of laws have a detrimental impact on all Americans, but they particularly affect minorities. The nonpartisan, nonprofit Project Vote has found that African-Americans and Latinos are more likely than white voters to register through a voter registration drive. That means that in Florida, where the League of Women Voters has halted its voter registration activities as a result of the new Republican law, fewer minority Americans will have the chance to register and vote.
Despite a complete lack of evidence of widespread voter fraud, Republicans have made it a priority to enact costly photo ID legislation that would restrict the voting rights of eligible Americans. In states like Wisconsin, Texas, and Kansas, Republican governors and legislators campaigned on small government and fiscal austerity, but now they are allocating millions of dollars for new photo ID requirements. [Read RNC Chairman Reince Priebus: Anti Voter Fraud Reforms Are Practical, Not Partisan.]
In Wisconsin, implementing photo ID requirements will cost the state at least $7 million, and the Institute for Southern Studies has estimated that North Carolina's photo ID bill would cost between $18 million and $25 million. As states continue to face billion-dollar budget deficits, lay off teachers, and shrink police departments, spending millions of public dollars for partisan gain is the height of irresponsibility. Despite the high price tag, the GOP has advanced photo ID mandates in more than 30 states. These laws would increase the barriers to voting for the 11 percent of Americans—including disproportionate numbers of elderly Americans and minorities—who lack the required ID.
Photo ID laws would disenfranchise voters and do nothing to improve the integrity of our electoral process. The national effort to restrict the right to vote has nothing to do with common sense; it is a callous political calculation designed to advantage Republicans in 2012. Rather than artificially slanting the electorate, it is time for Republicans to join the efforts of the president and the Democratic Party to create jobs, invest in our future, and address the challenges our nation faces. Maybe then the GOP wouldn't have to work so hard to stop Americans from voting.