Voting rights watch: Suppressing the vote by targeting voter registration

The assault on voting rights is moving upstream. A recently released report by Project Vote [September 2013] lists legislation introduced—and in some cases, passed—in state legislators and in Congress—that would add hurdles to voter registration.

Voter registration is the first step most eligible citizens take to participate in our democracy, making it a prime target for those seeking to limit access to the ballot. Partisans stoke fears of noncitizen voting and voter impersonation in order to impose excessively restrictive voter registration laws in the states.

In 2013, lawmakers proposed to restrict community-based voter registration drives; to require voter applicants to provide citizenship documents with voter registration forms; and to rollback voter-favored policies, such as same-day registration.

How many ways can you make voter registration more difficult? State legislators are working on that. Here are some of the lowlights of this effort, excerpted from the Project Vote report:

[1] Making access to voter registration more difficult

In 2013, Indiana and North Carolina passed restrictive bills that repeal same-day registration, and repeal pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-old citizens.

[2] Making voter registration drives more difficult

Remember volunteering to register people to vote? It’s not going to quite that easy anymore—at least in Virginia. Project Vote says:

A law passed in 2013 in Virginia requires individuals and groups who  obtain 25 or more voter registration applications to: register with the State Board of Elections or local offices; and execute a sworn affidavit that they will abide by all Virginia voter registration laws and rules. The required paperwork and training provisions are unspecified, and give excessive discretion to the State Board of Elections. Finally, the bill reduces the time limit for mailing or delivering such completed applications from 15 to 10 days.

Also, as a result of a bill passed in 2013 in Montana, in November 2014, Montana voters will have a referendum on whether to stop allowing people to register and vote on Election Day, and whether to close voter registration on the Friday before elections. [Let’s see, will people voting on this one be allowed to register and vote on election day?]

[3] Adding complexity to the act of registering to vote

Two bills pending in Congress would amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to permit a state to require documentary evidence of citizenship from an applicant for voter registration who uses the federal voter registration application as a condition of the state’s acceptance of the form.  [States’ rights rears its head again.]

Currently, all you have to do to register on the federal form is sign your name under a statement in which you swear that you are a U.S. citizen. That statement has sufficed for many years, and non-citizen voting has yet to be proven to be a widespread problem.

Also, a bill pending in the Massachusetts legislature requires an applicant for voter registration to prove, to the satisfaction of the clerk or registrar, that he or she is a citizen of the United States. Birth certificate or naturalization papers would be accepted.

That provision would essentially end voter registration drives at fairs and festivals and on street corners, unless we all start carrying our passports and naturalization papers around with us wherever we go.

Each of these changes might seem trivial, at first glance. But they’re not. Each is a move to restrict voting–a significant reversal of philosophy from the path of expanding voting rights that has been such a positive trend as America has evolved. And make no mistake about it, these small changes are designed to add up to a cumulative erosion of voting rights–particularly for people [meaning minority voters, and people who tend to vote for Democratic candidates] deemed “undesirable” by Rebublican-dominated state legislatures and politicians aiming for a permanent Republican majority in America.

Stay vigilant.