In Context

Today there are still practices that restrict voting rights. The voting processes in the 2008 election were criticized by various parties, who voiced concerns about voter registration list manipulation; voter caging and other modes of voter suppression; voter list purges in various states, including Colorado, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Nevada and North Carolina; confusion about methods of absentee voting (a problem that specifically affected college students living on campuses away from home and troops stationed abroad); and voter eligibility.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice and the NAACP, an assault on voting rights accelerated in 2011 and has the potential to affect the participation of 5.8 million voters in the 2012 election. Attempts to curtail voting rights are aimed at all stages of the voting process-- the voter registration stage, the early voting stage and election day itself.

As of October 2011, 19 new related laws and two new related executive actions had been approved, with no fewer than 42 related bills still pending. Examples of legislation include new photo I.D. and citizenship laws, the eradication of same-day voter registration, limiting mobilization efforts around voter registration, the elimination of early voting days and absentee voting and complication of the criteria necessary to restore voting rights of former felons.

Alabama joined Kansas and Tennessee in requiring documentary proof of citizenship to register to vote. According to the NAACP, these requirements place a unique burden on elderly African-American voters, many of whom were never issued birth certificates because they were born when de jure segregation prevented equal access to hospitals. Alabama (along with six other states) has also restricted voting rights through government-issued photo identification requirements. According to the NAACP, 11 percent of U.S. citizens nationwide--approximately 22.9 million people--do not have government-issued photo I.D.s. They also point out that 25 percent of African-American voting age citizens (more than six million people) and 16 percent of Latino voting age citizens (nearly three million people) do not possess valid identification.

Although the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 both included measures to reduce voter intimidation, various incidents were reported during the 2008 election. For example, a group of black Obama supporters was reportedly heckled and harassed at an early voting center in Fayetteville, North Carolina. In Philadelphia, a lawsuit was filed against members of the New Black Panther Party, who allegedly stood outside a polling place on election day wearing military gear and discouraged people from voting. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico also filed a lawsuit in 2008 that charged a state representative and detective with voter intimidation, alleging they had made visits to the homes of voters they thought were guilty of citizenship-related fraud.

In May 2012, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing to consider the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011. The act would criminalize voter intimidation and voter fraud and would require state and local election officials to correct any false information given to voters.

Caption: Armstrong watches election results in 2008
Credit: Photo still from The Barber of Birmingham

» Brennan Center for Justice. "Testimony on the Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2011."
» Brennan Center for Justice. "Voting Law Changes in 2012."
» Brennan Center for Justice. "Voting Rights and Elections."
» CNN. "Ballots from U.S. Troops Risk Being Discarded."
» FrontPageMag. "Voter Fraud 2008."
» "S.453 (110th): Deceptive Practices and Voter Intimidation Prevention Act of 2007."
» Minnesota Public Radio. "Ramsey County Charges 28 for 2008 Voting Fraud."
» Pew Research Center. "Public Concern About the Vote Count and Uncertainty About Electronic Voting Machines."
» Project Vote. "Voter Intimidation."
» National Council of Jewish Women. "NCJW Launches Promote the Vote, Protect the Vote 2012."
» Schwab, Nikki. "Confusing Voter Registration Laws Could Affect Presidential Election. U.S. News and World Report, September 24, 2008.
» Thompson, Krissah. "2008 Voter-Intimidation Case Against New Black Panthers Riles the Right." The Washington Post, July 15, 2010.
» United States Election Assistance Commission. "Help America Vote Act."