A dozen state legislatures passed rules last year requiring voters to present state-issued photo IDs when they arrive at the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, although in four states the laws were vetoed by Democratic governors. The bills continue to be a hot topic in state houses. Pennsylvania’s governor signed a voter ID bill in March, and the Virginia General Assembly also recently sent a voter ID bill to the governor.
Florida and Ohio will cut nearly in half the number of days for early voting, and Florida lawmakers reversed rules that had made it easier for former felons to vote.
Florida also passed new rules governing groups that register voters, requiring them to turn in completed voter registration forms within 48 hours or risk fines. Groups previously had 10 days to file the forms. As a result, the League of Women Voters, the Boy Scouts and several other organizations that register voters halted efforts in Florida.
Opponents of the laws say Republican legislatures have attempted to tamp down turnout among minorities, who tend to vote for Democrats.
“We’re seeing the squeeze put on voters of color. They were hit by the economy, they have to re-register to vote, and now they are hit by new registration requirements,” said Judith Browne Dianis, a civil rights lawyer and co-director of the Advancement Project, which is challenging the laws in several states.
Supporters of the laws counter that they are aimed at preventing voter fraud.
“For decades we’ve dealt with fraud and irregularities, and those concerns have to be addressed as well,” said Ana Navarro, a Florida Republican activist who supports the changes to the state’s voting laws. “If you look at almost any election in Miami-Dade, there’s always allegations of fraud.”
Together, the number of registered blacks and Hispanics across the country declined by 2 million from 2008 to late 2010, the most recent data available from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey.
The number of registered blacks is just over 16 million. Among whites, registrations dropped 6 percent to 104 million.
The drop is attributed not only to Americans moving from their homes, but also the assumption — by one in four voters — that their registration is automatically updated when they move, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States.
Nationally, about one in eight Americans moved between 2008 and 2010, with higher numbers among members of the armed services, young people and those living in communities affected by the economic downturn.
Nevada, a swing state with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, is a prime example. In Clark County — which is 22 percent Hispanic — election officials found that more than 20 percent of voters were no longer living at the addresses on file, said David Becker, director of election initiatives for the Pew Center. Such voters can be purged from the voter rolls after two election cycles.
“Voters aren’t even thinking about it, and no one is trying to engage with them until 30 or 60 days before a presidential election,” Becker said.
Among Latinos, the decline has altered a trend of steady growth. Given that 12 million Latinos were registered to vote in 2008, some analysts had projected the number would grow to 13 million in 2010 and 14 million this election cycle. Instead, it fell in 2010 to 11 million.
“Everyone is saying the Latino vote is rocketing to the moon,” said Gonzalez of the Velasquez Institute. “It has been growing, but it stopped.”
Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director of Voto Latino — a nonpartisan group focused on registering young Hispanic voters — said the economy has made it “a lot harder to target individuals.”
But, she added, “if you just look at Latino youth, you will have 2.4 million [potential] new Latino voters. That’s three congressional districts.”
To get a jump-start, Kumar’s team is touring with Mana, a popular Mexican rock band, and collecting e-mail addresses to push voter engagement.
The NAACP will launch its voter registration campaign next week and will begin hiring field staff in a dozen states, including Florida, Georgia, Virginia and Pennsylvania. It will also mail voter registration forms to more than 1 million blacks who will turn 18 years old before the election.
“There have been a significant set of challenges that have been put before African American voters this election cycle, and us starting earlier serves to build momentum,” said Marvin Randolph, NAACP’s senior vice president for campaigns.
Staff writer Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.