By Ari Berman at The Nation
Today residents of Mississippi will decide whether voters must produce a government-issued ID in order to cast a ballot and voters in Maine will choose whether to keep or overturn a new law banning election day voter registration, which had previously been on the books since 1973.
These votes occur amidst the backdrop of an unprecedented, Republican-led war on voting. Since the 2010 election, at least a dozen states controlled by Republicans have approved new obstacles to voting—mandating government-issued IDs, curtailing early voting, restricting voter registration, disenfranchising ex-felons. Five million voters could be negatively impacted by the new laws, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, which found that “these new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities”—in other words, those most likely to vote for Democrats.
A key component of the GOP’s campaign has been orchestrated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which receives substantial funding from the Koch brothers. ALEC drafted mock photo ID legislation after the 2008 election and in five states that passed ID laws in the past year—Kansas, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin—the measures were sponsored by legislators who are members of ALEC.
A new investigation from Brave New Foundation, in conjunction with the Advancement Project and amplified by a host of progressive groups, outlines ALEC’s influence in the war on voting and spotlights the $245,550 in campaign contributions the Koch brothers have given to politicians supporting new voter ID laws, such as Scott Walker and Rick Perry. “Folks like the Koch brothers are attempting to ensure that as few people of color and as few young people show up as possible,” says NAACP President Ben Jealous.
The video also features interviews with eligible voters who may be unable to cast a ballot because of the new restrictions. “Voter suppression is obviously a critically important issue,” says Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films. “Our job is to put a face on this—take it from abstract policy to real people losing the right to vote because of right-wing attacks on our democracy.” Brave New Foundation also launched a petition on their website asking Attorney General Eric Holder to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
On a related note, civil rights groups such as the NAACP and National Urban League today announced the formation of a new group, Stand 4 Freedom, to protest the new voting laws. Representative Keith Ellison also recently introduced two bills, the Same Day Registration Act and the Voter Access Protection Act, which would, respectively, “require states to provide for same day voter registration for a federal election,” and “make sure election officials cannot require photo identification in order to cast a vote or register to vote.”
The sleeper issue of the 2012 election is starting to get a lot more attention.