For the last year, the American Legislative Exchange Council and its members have directed Republican-controlled legislatures across the country to enact what critics have rightly decried as voter-suppression laws.
The most aggressive of these have been voter ID laws that place dramatic new burdens on the elderly, students, low-income and minority citizens who want to participate in the democratic process.
Since the 2010 election results gave Republicans full control of statehouses across the country, dozens of states have considered proposals for variations on the model voter ID proposals advanced by ALEC, a corporate-funded group that brings together business interests and conservative legislators to advance agendas that make it easier for corporations to influence elections, and harder for citizens to participate in them.
Eight states, including Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin either made existing voter ID laws dramatically stricter or enacted new laws that were condemned by groups such as the League of Women Voters as voter-suppression initiatives. Only a veto by New Hampshire Governor John Lynch, a Democrat, prevented the first-in-the-nation primary state from enacting a law that proponents openly acknowledged was part of a push to erect barriers to voting by college students. And the issue has not died in New Hampshire, or a number of other battleground states.
With New York University’s Brennan Center detailing how 11 percent of the voter age population of the United States lacks government-issued photo identification, the push for voter ID laws has been condemned by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People president Benjamin Jealous as a “massive attack on voting rights.”
But ALEC’s allies in the states—such as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who along with ALEC itself helped draft Arizona’s harsh anti-immigration law, and the group’s Wisconsin leader, legislative Joint Finance Committee co-chair Robin Vos—have continued the push, often taking the lead in advancing voter ID laws against significant opposition from civil rights and open government groups.
Now, however, the wheels are coming off the initiative—not just in the South, where the US Justice Department has significant flexibility to monitor laws that effect voting rights but in swing states of the North.
Monday saw the US Department of Justice extend its previous objections to restrictive voter ID laws in Southern states, where the federal government has the authority under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to block changes in voting procedures that might maintain (or renew) historic patterns of discrimination.
As it did in December, when it prevented implementation of South Carolina’s controversial voter ID law, the Obama administration has now blocked a similar law in Texas.