A gathering of activists, journalists and voting rights advocates met recently to discuss the growing number of states that have adopted what many see as discriminatory voter registration laws. Such policies, they argue, do more to limit rather than expand democracy, threatening to disenfranchise millions in the lead up to the November elections.
Citizen journalist Faye Anderson was among those gathered at a Feb. 14 symposium, hosted by the Center for American Progress. Recalling the controversy over determining the intent of voters who may have incompletely punched paper ballots during the 2000 presidential race, she voiced the likelihood that voter photo IDs will become "the hanging chads of the 2012 election."
Describing herself as a "chief evangelist" for the Cost of Freedom Project, a grass-roots voting rights initiative, Anderson called for national organizations, community activists and individuals to harness technology and social media to educate voters about how to comply with the new laws.
The Freedom Project is currently developing mobile phone apps in order to inform voters about the ID requirements in the states where they reside.
According to Nicole Austin-Hillery, D.C. Counsel and Director of the Washington, D.C. Office of the Brennan Center for Justice, the dramatic change since before 2011, when only Georgia and Indiana required a voter photo ID, will "seriously impact the next presidential election."
Austin-Hillery estimated that as many as five million Americans – mostly elderly, young and minorities -- may be impeded from voting in November and that the states where more restrictive voting measures have been enacted represent 60 percent of the votes of the Electoral College.
"Nine states will not allow you to vote without a voter ID," Austin-Hillery said, noting that at least 15 states have sought to tighten voting ID laws. Other barriers being erected include: the elimination of early voter periods; shortening the time during which absentee ballots can be filed; and curtailing ways in which voter registration drives can be conducted. Historically, registration drives have been a primary tool for registering minority and young voters.