-By Deborah Charles
April 21, 2012- New state laws designed to fight voter fraud could reduce the number of Americans signing up to vote in this year's presidential election by hundreds of thousands, a potential problem for President Barack Obama's re-election bid.
Voting laws passed by Republican-led legislatures in a dozen states during the past year have sharply restricted voter-registration drives that typically target young, low-income, African-American and Hispanic voters – groups that have backed the Democratic president by wide margins.
A further 16 states are considering bills that would end voter registration on election days, impose a range of limits on groups that register voters and make it more difficult for people to sign up, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
The new laws – many of which include measures requiring voters to show a photo ID at the polls – could carve into Obama's potential support in Florida, Ohio and a few other politically divided states likely to be crucial in the November 6 election, analysts say.
The analysts note that massive registration drives in 2008 helped put millions of people aged 18 to 29 on voting rolls, and that age group – which makes up roughly one-quarter of the U.S. electorate – helped propel Obama to victory, voting 2-to-1 for him.
Rock the Vote, a nationwide organization that mobilizes young voters, said the new laws would make it more difficult for the group to educate people on how to sign up to vote.
"The types of laws have varied, but state by state they've added up to the fact that it's going to be harder for young people to get registered and vote in this election cycle," said Heather Smith, president of Rock the Vote.
"We have a very busy year ahead of us, and a very important one," she added. "What a shame if we can't continue to engage this generation in the political process because these laws have made it harder."