New voter laws still confuse, worry some

Voter ID laws remain hot topic

(CNN) -  

For LaVon Bracy, the pain of racial discrimination, of fighting for her rights as a U.S. citizen, still aches every time she thinks about Florida's new voter identification law.

"When I think I had ancestors that died for this right. I owe it to them ... to do what I'm doing," said Bracy, who years ago helped desegregate her Florida high school and today is fighting to change voting restrictions she feels are designed to keep people like her away from the polls.

Parts of the Florida law -- which required a photo ID to vote, restricted voter registration techniques and limited early voting -- have been curtailed by federal courts.

 

Still, it is one of more than two dozen laws across the country approved in at least 15 states since 2011 to deal with concerns around voter fraud and election irregularities. But courts and the Justice Department have reversed or weakened several of those regulations in a flurry of recent litigation.

Anita MonCrief, however, could not disagree more strongly with Bracy.

MonCrief, who is also African American, told women gathered at the Woman's Up Pavilion at the Republican National Convention in August that she resents when other blacks suggest that efforts to crack down on voter fraud are racially motivated.

"This is not the 60's and blacks are not your victims," MonCrief tweeted during the week of the convention. "Do you know any blacks that have been disenfranchised by having poll watchers in place? Neither do I."

CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns will explore the impact of tough new voter laws in an hour-long documentary set to air on Sunday. It focuses on new legislative voting changes in Florida and how those changes may affect the outcome of the 2012 presidential election.

Political tactic or vital for democracy?

This year's fight has been especially intense in the battleground states of Florida and Pennsylvania, where there have been high-profile fights over new voter identification laws, and Ohio, where the campaigns of President Barack Obama and Republican White House challenger Mitt Romney were locked in a showdown over early voting.

Some see the voter laws as a political weapon designed to discourage turnout during an election where every vote may matter. Others, however, feel that the laws are a simple and painless way to assure the integrity of the voting process.

"We've seen a great deal of litigation in the last two election cycles," said Dan Tokaji, an Ohio State University law professor. "This is shaping up to be an extremely close presidential election in which a lot of these seemingly little things could add up and make a difference in these swing states in Florida or Ohio or Pennsylvania."

But are the slew of new laws a solution in search of a problem?

Johns' investigation reveals there were 55 cases of voter fraud referred for prosecution by the Florida Secretary of State out of 11.6 million registered voters over five years, the latest period for which data is available.

Evidence of voter fraud?

"It's true that there is some voter fraud in this country ... but there is no credible evidence that there is any systematic in-person voter fraud. It's not a serious problem," Richard Hasen a political science and law professor at the University of California-Irvine told CNN.

There is recent evidence, however, that some voting fraud does exist.

Last month the Republican National Committee announced it cut ties with a consulting firm that Florida election officials say may have filed falsified voter registration paperwork. The story was first reported by NBC News.

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher told CNN that her office has called into question as many as 106 voter registration applications that were turned in by someone connected to Strategic Allied Consulting. Fred Petti, an attorney for the firm, said the employee involved in the questionable signatures was "fired immediately."

Republicans in Florida and in the battlegrounds of Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia have paid Strategic Allied Consulting at least $3 million in recent months for voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, although the issues appear to be limited to Florida.

 

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