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Voting rights under fire

August 6, 2012

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act as Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders look on. Photo credit: LBJ Library photo by Yoichi Okamoto

On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law.

Yet now, 47 years later, voting rights are in serious jeopardy as states across the country have been on a rampage to disenfranchise eligible voters, all in the name of supposedly preventing “voter fraud.”

For example, Pennsylvania voter ID laws were introduced as a way to combat “voter fraud.” Yet, state officials have admitted that there haven’t been any actual cases of voter fraud and that this is just a “precautionary measure.”

Several Pennsylvanians are challenging the laws and the diverse plaintiffs include a woman who had her purse stolen and does not have access to her Social Security card, a rural Pennsylvanian who never had a birth certificate issued, and a transgender man who hasn’t yet met the requirements to change the gender markers on his IDs.

We know that Pennsylvania is an important swing state in this election, and it is unfathomable that this law, if upheld, could disenfranchise up to a million Pennsylvania voters. This is a clear and blatant attack on voters, specifically voters who are young, minorities, low-income voters, seniors, naturalized citizens, and voters with disabilities – groups that don’t have an army of lobbyists meeting with elected officials.

But Pennsylvania isn’t the only place that has tried to restrict the accessibility of voting. According the the Brennan Center:

  • At least 180 restrictive bills introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states.
  • 47 restrictive bills currently pending in 12 states.
  • 24 laws and 2 executive actions passed since the beginning of 2011 in 19 states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin).
  • 16 states have passed restrictive voting laws that have the potential to impact the 2012 election (Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and West Virginia).
  • These states account for 214 electoral votes, or nearly 79 percent of the total needed to win the presidency.
  • Of these, 13 laws and executive actions are currently in effect in 9 states (Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia).

At the end of the day, voting means having a voice in our democracy. It’s about exercising the right to be heard. Fighting against prohibitive voting laws is important. We all need to speak up when our rights and the rights of others are being infringed upon. Before you go to the ballot box this year, make sure you know your rights, and be sure to educate your friends and family to help get out the vote this November. Visit queerthevote.org to learn more.

If you have questions, or feel like your voting rights are being violated, you can call the national election protection hotline: 1-866-OUR-VOTE or 1-888-Ve-Y-Vota!

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