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Suppressing the vote

Restrictive new voting laws expected to diminish turnout nationwide for 2012 elections

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Wisconsin State Sen. Timothy Carpenter (D) has already heard from senior citizens who have encountered difficulty while presenting the proper documents to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which is supposed to issue free voter IDs. “It’s a passion for senior citizens to vote, but a lot of people are being slapped back,” he said.

Genevieve Winslow, an 83-year-old widow in frail health living with her son Jeffrey in Milwaukee, Wis., spent 90 minutes at a DMV office in July and came away exasperated. “She came with her Social Security card in the name of Genevieve, her Medicare card in the name of Genevieve, a certified copy of her marriage certificate from 1948 in the name of Genevieve and perhaps most important, an expired passport issued in 1987 in the name of Genevieve,” recounts her son. But because her birth certificate featured the Polish version of her name, she walked away without a new ID.

“The easiest thing for mom would be to get a new passport, which would be quite expensive [$135]. But we live on her Social Security payment,” Jeffrey Winslow says. “It’s not a happy situation, but she’s determined for them not to take away her vote.”

Roger Bybee’s work has appeared in numerous national publications and websites, includingZ magazine,Dollars & Sense andThe Progressive.

Disenfranchised in the Sunshine State

In Florida, similar voter limitations proposed in ratified HB 1355 during the 2011 legislative session have sparked considerable opposition. The state’s new election law – which includes provisions that cut early voting back from 14 days to eight, mandate provisional ballots (which are only counted 50 percent of the time) for those who switch counties prior to an election, force third-party voter registration groups to return their forms within 48 hours or face a fine, and restrict the duration of the validity of a voter’s signature on an initiative petition from four years to two – is already a done deal in most of the state.

But there is a hitch. The four contentious provisions listed above await federal approval (or pre-clearance) for just five of Florida’s counties – Hillsborough, Collier, Monroe, Hendry and Hardee – due to provisions outlined in the 1965 Voting Rights Act intended to protect against the suppression of minority votes. In what appears to be a strategic move, it is those four provisions (out of a total of 80 put forth in the bill) that were singled out for pre-clearance by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration via Secretary of State Kurt Browning. Just this month they were removed from the standard Department of Justice review and referred to a three-judge federal panel for further consideration.

The League of Women Voters of Florida, which has already promised to halt its voter registration efforts in light of the possibility of substantial fines for volunteers, responded optimistically to the move.

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