Ranking House Democrats John Conyers, D-Mich., and Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., are demanding congressional hearings on voter suppression laws that are being instituted in states across the country. Conyers and Nadler are senior members of the House Judiciary Committee. The committee is chaired by Republican Lamar Smith of Texas.
New laws restricting voting have been enacted or are in process in 37 states. Some of the measures include requiring voter identification cards, eliminating same-day registration on voting day, prohibiting ex-felons from ballot access, restricting early voting and requiring proof of citizenship,
In a letter to Lamar Smith, the Democratic legislators wrote, "These changes in state voting laws raise serious constitutional concerns under both the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the 15th Amendment." They go on to note that in an earlier ruling the Supreme Court said that voter ID laws place an unfair economic burden on the elderly, the homeless and those with religious objections to being photographed.
A recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice suggests that some 5 million voters may be disenfranchised as a result of these measures. The study says, "These new restrictions fall most heavily on young, minority, and low-income voters, as well as on voters with disabilities. This wave of changes may sharply tilt the political terrain for the 2012 election. Already 19 new laws and two new executive actions are in place. At least 42 bills are still pending, and at least 68 more were introduced but failed."
Young voters along with blacks, Latinos, Asians and women were key constituencies that supported President Obama in the last election.
Conyers and Nadler compare the implementation of new voter ID laws to a new form of poll tax. For example, they said, "requiring citizens to expend significant funds to obtain a photo ID to vote runs afoul of the prohibition on poll taxes."
In Ohio similar efforts were stalled with a successful labor-led ballot referendum to reverse the state's voter suppression law. Over 300,000 signatures were collected in that effort.
In Maine on Sept. 9, the coalition Protect Maine Votes announced that Maine Secretary of State Charlie Summers had verified more than enough signatures to allow placement on the ballot of a measure to overturn a right-wing law that eliminates same-day voter registration.
A corporate group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, has been the driving force behind devising a strategy for the voter suppression efforts.
Photo: Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., left, and Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., right, at Capitol Hill in Washington, (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)