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"The U.S. Supreme Court upheld voter ID requirements in concept three years ago, but justices said then that they might reconsider if opponents could produce actual voters who had been turned away because they could not get ID," the Tennessean reports. This may not be far off as more and more reports of voters without photo ID begin to emerge.

Although officials in at least three states have attempted to help voters adhere to the law, voters and advocates caution that it's not enough if voters are not "plugged in" in the first place.

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This week, Project Vote released the second installment in our ongoing Election Legislation Threats and Opportunities Assessment series that examines proposed election laws in all 50 states and U.S. Congress.

In 2011, it has become clear that partisan forces are putting their energy into passing restrictive voting laws designed to reduce turnout in the 2012 election. But, we also see an increasing number of citizens, civil rights and voting advocates, and even members U.S. Congress standing up to question policies that impose photo ID requirements or place restrictions on voter registration and early voting.

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Project Vote has joined the ACLU Voting Rights Project and the Florida ACLU in asking the Department of Justice to block a recently enacted discriminatory Florida election law. In a separate letter, the Florida NAACP, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and others also submitted comments to the Justice Department.

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This morning, Texas Governor Rick Perry signed SB 14, which will institute strict photo-ID requirements for anyone wishing to vote in the state. Project Vote Executive Director Michael Slater issued the following statement in response:

Presented under the guise of addressing the mythical threat of “voter impersonation,” the real effect and intent of this legislation will be to disenfranchise tens of thousands of Texas voters, particularly young voters, seniors, and low-income residents.

SB 14 requires every voter to present a specific form of Texas identification, from a very limited list of options, including a driver’s license, a state ID card, a military ID, or other government issued photo identification. While this may sound like a reasonable requirement in a society that requires photo ID for routine transactions, we must remember that voting is a right, not a privilege. Setting up new hurdles that otherwise eligible voters must jump on their way to vote is a severe blow to our democracy.

What this law will do is cost Texas tax payers millions of dollars, and accomplish nothing except to disenfranchise eligible voters. According to a Brennan Center survey, up to 11% of United States citizens do not have unexpired or recently expired government-issued photographic identification of the types required by SB 14. The requirement will be especially hard on low-income 18-24 year olds (including students), low-income citizens, senior citizens, and voters living in urban areas—all of whom are less likely to have photo ID.

What this law will not do is prevent a single instance of voter fraud. A review of Texas law enforcement efforts to find voter fraud—including a comprehensive effort by the Attorney General that ended in 2008—found absolutely no voter fraud that would be stopped by requiring photo identification. The few cases of voter fraud prosecuted in Texas have involved mail-in ballots, which SB 14 does not address.

The signing into law of SB 14 represents a setback for democracy in the State of Texas, and  another blow delivered in what has become a nationwide assault on voting rights. Republican lawmakers have introduced voter ID legislation in 32 states this year, despite its expense, in direct contradiction to research that shows voter impersonation to be virtually non-existent, and with complete disregard for the thousands of eligible voters who will be prevented from casting a ballot.

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Today on The Huffington Post, Arianna Huffington cites Project Vote’s recent research memo, First-Time Voters in the 2008 Election. In the article, Huffington discusses the dangers President Obama faces by “swerving to the middle” on economic issues.

“According to a new study by Project Vote,” Huffington writes, “new voters made up 12 percent of the electorate in 2008. And they went for Obama by a margin of two to one. That translated into 10 million first-time votes for Obama -- who won by a margin of 9.5 million.”

So what is Obama doing to reach these increasingly unlikely voters? One thing they're not particularly interested in is reducing the deficit at the expense of growing the economy and creating jobs. As the Project Vote study notes: “individuals who voted for the first time in 2008 strongly favor an active role for government in ensuring economic fairness and educational opportunity.”

For instance, 79 percent of those 2008 first-timers think the economy should be boosted by increasing spending on public works and infrastructure. And 86 percent support more spending on public education.

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Over the last several years, Texas has received extensive attention for its partisan-driven efforts to limit access to the democratic process. This year is no different in the Red state that features a Legislature that is fiercely pushing a controversial photo voter ID law and a voter ID-supportive governor who is also a rumored presidential hopeful. But Texas’ assault on democracy doesn’t just begin with voter ID, it starts with voter registration and the groups that facilitate voter registration between the citizen and the government.

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Young people "lack life experience," are "foolish," vote "as a liberal," and "just vote their feelings," apparently, all reasons to shut down or limit their access to democratic participation. At least, that's what New Hampshire state House Speaker William O'Brien seems to think, causing partisans like him to take matters to the Legislature.

Yesterday, Washington Post writer Peter Wallsten wrote on Speaker O'Brien's YouTubed speech to a N.H. tea party group, linking his views to the state Republicans' assault on young people's access to the ballot. Among the measures under consideration are HB 176, a bill to "permit students to vote in their college towns only if they or their parents had previously established permanent residency there," and HB 223, a bill to end the state's Election Day Registration policy, a policy that is known to increase overall voter turnout, especially among young people.

The House Election Law committee is scheduled to hear both bills today.

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Since the 2010 midterm elections and the Republican takeover of several state houses, the fight to enact controversial photo voter ID bills has dominated legislative debates that would otherwise be devoted to tackling swelling state deficits. This week alone, Wisconsin, Kansas, Tennessee, Missouri, and Minnesota made headlines for this contentious issue. Now, municipal officials, an election clerk, and voting rights advocates weigh in on what these bills really mean to voters and their states at large.

State policymakers; take notice of what they have to say.

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Today, members of the Minnesota House heard two controversial bills that could cost the state millions and hamper voter access in a state that is renowned for progressive election policy.

Minnesota has long boasted above-average voter turnout, thanks, in part, to a decades-old policy that permits eligible citizens to register and vote on Election Day with a zero-rate of voter fraud. Despite lacking evidence of pervasive voter impersonation issues (as well as lacking available funding), state lawmakers are intent on changing the rules governing Election Day Registration and adding a requirement for all voters to present photographic proof of identity before voting.

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In a democracy that can only boast that 71 percent of its citizens are registered and able to exercise their civic duty in any given election, access to the franchise is crucial.  For decades, millions of citizens have relied on either voter registration drives or government agencies to help them get on the voter rolls. Today, however, private voter registration drives are under attack, while some states are ignoring their responsibilities to reach unregistered citizens. If community-based drives are prevented from helping Americans get registered, and government agencies won’t help them, then who will?

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This week, newly elected Republicans took office in several states, many of whom have big plans for the future of voting rights. Unfortunately, as we blogged and reported last month, these changes have little to do with actually assessing and improving state of elections. In fact, many of these officials used anti-immigration and voter fraud fear tactics to win their seats, and now are threatening to restrict access to the ballot via legislation or state ballot before 2012 elections.

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The 2010 election season left many Americans with real concerns about the state of our democracy. Secretive groups spent hundreds of millions of dollars slinging mud and promoting lies and half-truths about the healthcare bill, the stimulus package, and the deficit. Meanwhile, many candidates shied away from positions popular with millions of voters who turned out in historic numbers in 2008.

The results were stark: older, wealthier, White Americans came out in record numbers in 2010 while millions of African Americans, youth, and lower-income Americans stayed home. The mid-term drop-off rate was higher than it should have been given the tremendous voter turnout of 2008.

We simply cannot let 2012 be a repeat of 2010.

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