In an effort to beat back what Democrats are calling a Republican assault on the voting rights of blacks, Hispanics and other minority groups ahead of the 2012 presidential election, the Democratic National Committee has launched a new initiative to educate voters on restrictive mostly Republican-sponsored voter ID laws.
The initiative includes the release of a report, "A Reversal in Progress: Restricting Voting Rights for Electoral Gain," and the launch of a website www.protectingthevote.org.
Both are intended to "expose efforts by the Republican party to limit the right to vote for political gain," said Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz during a conference call this morning.
Schultz called the laws "a full-scale assault" on the voting rights of mostly minority voters in states where both groups strongly supported the president in 2008. And that the laws are "essentially designed to rig an election when Republicans can't win these election on the merits."
Republicans contend that the measures protect against voter fraud, a claim the Democrats say has yet to be proven in large measure.
"I think that nothing could disenfranchise an eligible voter more than finding out that ineligible voters are voting," Tre Hargett, the Republican secretary of state in Tennessee, told NPR this summer, after that state passed a new rule that requires voters to display photo ID and proof of citizenship when they register to vote. Hargett then cited a 2005 incident in a special election in Memphis, where a poll worker faked at least three votes.
The issue of voter suppression has been of particular interest for Democrats in states that will be key to President Obama's reelection efforts, such as North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Ohio, where more prohibitive voter identification laws have sparked controversy. Other states, including Tennessee, Rhode Island, Kansas and Wisconsin have passed voter identification measures this year. Mississippi last month approved a constitutional amendment to require voters to provide government-issued ID at the polls. Still others have struck down Election Day voter registration and limited early voting.
Critics of the laws say the poor, African Americans, Latinos and older citizens are less likely to have such IDs, and that the many hurdles to getting such identification would discourage and disenfranchise voters, most of whom would likely vote for Democrats.
According to the Democrats, about 25 percent of African Americans and 19 percent of Latinos do not have some form of government-issued identification.
"Coast to coast in 40 different states, governors and state legislators -- nearly all Republicans -- have proposed or enacted restrictions on voting that make it more difficult to register, reduce the availability of early voting and place new qualifications on voters, such as obtaining limited types of government-issued photo identification," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement released a few hours before the call. "These restrictive measures have one thing in common: They make it harder to vote, specifically for minority voters. Democrats will not sit idly by while the Republican Party attempts to infringe on the rights of American voters."
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, The United Federation of Teachers, the health care workers' union 1199SEIU, National Council of La Raza and the Asian-American Legal Defense Fund and other minority groups have joined forces to plan a series of protests around the country.
Ben Jealous, president of the NAACP, recently called the laws "the greatest assault on voting rights ... that we have seen since the dawn of Jim Crow."
Wasserman Schultz and Will Crossley, the director of voter protection for the DNC, said they are seriously considering legal action to challenge the laws where such steps are warranted. Crossley said the Department of Justice is currently reviewing a number of the laws in various states.
In the foreword to the DNC's report, Donna Brazile, the DNC's Vice Chair for Voter Registration and Participation, chided the tactics, saying, "It seems that no blow is too low and no trick too dirty for Republicans seeking to ensure their own victory in 2012 and beyond."
"Their primary aim is to ensure their reelection -- at the expense of the voting rights of eligible Americans, particularly persons of limited means, minorities, young people, and our seniors," she wrote. "For decades, our laws have sought to expand access to the franchise; today, Republicans seek to reverse this progress."