In statehouses across the country, Republican lawmakers are raising the specter of "voter fraud" to push through legislation that would dramatically restrict the voting rights of college students, rural voters, senior citizens, the disabled and the homeless. As part of their larger effort to silence Main Street, conservatives are pushing through new photo identification laws that would exclude millions from voting, depress Hispanic voter turnout by as much as 10 percent, and cost taxpayers millions of dollars. In the next few months, a new set of election laws could make going to the polls and registering to vote significantly more difficult — in some cases even barring groups of citizens from voting in the communities where they live.
Conservative legislators across the country have said these laws are necessary to combat alleged mass voter fraud. But these fears are completely overblown and states already have tough voting laws on the books: fraudulent voters face felony charges, hefty fines, and even lengthy prison time. In Missouri, for example, voter fraud carries a penalty of no less than 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Yet conservatives have insisted on finding a legislative solution to a non-existent problem. In states like Indiana, where an ID law passed in 2005, both nuns and college students have found themselves turned away from the polls. Similar laws are on the books in eight other states and that number could expand dramatically in coming months.
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