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Voting Rights Advocates Raise Concerns About New Restrictions At The Ballot Box


Strict voting laws are putting some states in the headlines this election year. In Georgia, 53,000 voter applications were placed on hold because the names didn't exactly match names on IDs. A North Dakota law requiring voter IDs to include street addresses has also gotten attention.

Myrna Perez considers these examples of policies that can suppress voter turnout especially in minority communities. She's the head of NYU's Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Project. I asked her about how voting laws have changed over the last decade.

MYRNA PEREZ: Our country has a trajectory of expanding the right to vote. But what we saw in - right after the 2010 election was efforts across the country to make it harder to vote. We saw bills being introduced from coast to coast in statehouses that would have put barriers in front of the ballot box. For many Americans, it is harder to register and vote than it was prior to 2010.

CORNISH: All right, so to begin, help us understand the range of legislation. What are we seeing from states in terms of how they're dealing with voting now?

PEREZ: We have had some states mess around with their polling locations, close polling locations and move them. We see states imposing strict photo identification laws, meaning that people are going to need to present specific kinds of ID in order to be able to cast a ballot that will count. We are seeing states not providing equal access to common sense things like a polling location near them or around them. 2018 is going to be a challenging time for a number of voters, but they should not be deterred.

CORNISH: Another issue I've been reading a lot about is this idea of purging. What do these laws look like? How are they justified?

PEREZ: Purging is a practice of removing voters from the rolls. Some of that is set forth through law, but some of it is just the policies and the ways that election administrators conduct their business. What we have discovered is that an increasing number of Americans are getting purged from the rolls. There were 16 million people purged between 2014 and 2016. We're seeing some states like Georgia purge up to one-tenth of the number of people that are on the rolls.

CORNISH: In some cases when they're doing this, are they saying, look; this person hasn't voted in two and three cycles, or, look; we're not sure if this person still lives at the same address? I mean, is it described as an administrative effort?

PEREZ: We want election administrators to do the regular cleaning of our voter rolls. The problem with purging is that we see too many election administrators use sloppy procedures. And so voters are finding out that they're being purged way too late. Critically, we're also seeing that purging is happening in states that used to be required under the Voting Rights Act to be able to demonstrate that their election processes were not going to be discriminatory. And we're seeing that those areas are having an even higher increase in the number of people that are being purged from the rolls.

CORNISH: You've been calling this voter suppression. Do the courts agree? With so many laws in place, it seems like maybe there is an open door to these kinds of laws around voting.

PEREZ: Many of the strictest laws have been blunted by courts over time.

CORNISH: So blunted but not overturned. The courts aren't seeing it as suppression yet.

PEREZ: I think I would push back a little bit on that. I think we're talking about a matter of degree. So for example, the photo ID law in Texas that was enacted in 2011 looks really, really different than the photo ID law that is on the books now and the same thing in North Dakota.

So some courts are stepping in and saying some of these policies are too much, but they're not going all the way and saying that these policies can't exist in any form. Many Americans, especially Americans that have traditionally had their rights to vote suppressed, are very, very resilient and very determined to overcome it. But having said that, these laws are going to depress turnout in a way that we wouldn't have seen if these laws hadn't existed in the first place.

CORNISH: Myrna Perez is head of NYU's U.S. Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Project. Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

PEREZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.