Are US minorities being denied voting rights?

As more states require voters to produce photo ID we ask if this is a deliberate attempt to disenfranchise minorities.

A leading civil rights group in the US has called it the greatest attack on voting rights since segregation.

Nearly 50 years since the historic protests in the southern US calling for equal voting rights for African Americans, thousands have marched, again, from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama.

We know we have a quantitative problem in the US. This is an enormous strategic miscalculation by the NAACP. Voter ID is wildly popular, 80 per cent of Americans support it, African Americans support it by majority numbers, Hispanics, Democrats, Republicans, it is widespread support.”

– Christian Adams, a former US justice department official

The issue in 2012 – new laws in more than a dozen US states that could discourage millions from voting, in particular students, ethnic minorities and immigrants.

In Texas, voters are now required to show photo identification.

On Monday the US government blocked that provision, concerned that it would disproportionately affect the Hispanic population – 300,000 of whom do not carry an ID.

A similar in South Carolina was blocked in December.

Supporters of the laws, the majority of which have been introduced in Republican-controlled states, say they will ensure the integrity of elections by clamping down on fraud and stopping undocumented migrants from voting.

But now the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the country’s oldest African American civil rights group, is in Switzerland appealing to the UN human rights council.

Speaking to Al Jazeera earlier Hilary Shelton, a veteran civil rights activist, said they were able to provide statistical data to show how the new laws could keep about five million Americans out of the electoral process come November.

The heads of organisations for city and county clerks and some key legal women voters said there simply is no serious problem in the US with voter fraud… But those handful of instances even when they do occur frequently are mistakes rather than outright fraud.”

– John Nichols, from The Nation magazine

“In 1947 the forms of oppression or disenfranchisement utilised then were done in a much more brazen way where they’d say ‘we want to lock African Americans out of the polls’…

“Now, as much as the language is not the same the strategies in many ways are… What we’re seeing now is the same strategy but utilising new technologies…equally as disenfranchising as racist and discriminatory as ever before but more sophisticated.”

Shelton said the NAACP wants the UN to monitor the situation in the US and to share the information gained from that with other countries to avoid the same problem.

So far 38 states have passed laws requiring photo ID to be presented before voting. According to a report by the Brennan Center for Justice, 11 per cent of eligible US voters do not carry government-issued ID, and the percentage is higher for ethnic minorities. The center also says that voter fraud is extremely low.

So what is the motivation behind these new laws? And how could they affect the result of November’s elections?
Joining the discussion with presenter Shihab Rattansi on Inside Story: US 2012 are guests: John Nichols, from The Nation magazine; Christian Adams, a supporter of the new laws and former US justice department official; and Marcia Johnson-Blanco, of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The great thing about Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is that the burden is on the states to prove that these laws do not have a discriminatory effect or a disproportionately negative effect on minorities, and the justice department’s data shows that it does.

Marcia Johnson-Blanco, of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law