All Cost, No Benefit: States Aim to Raise Voting Barriers to Prevent Rare Crime

Cross-Posted at Project Vote's Voting Matter's Blog

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

by Erin Ferns

As we predicted last December, legislation designed to prevent so-called voter fraud has dominated election law debates in several states this year. Last week alone, Georgia's controversial voter ID law was upheld by a federal appeals panel, the Texas Senate "sparked deep partisan tensions" by eliminating the majority rule in order to aid the passage of a voter ID law, and nine more states introduced numerous voter ID bills.

With several studies pointing to the potential disenfranchisement of certain communities, including already underrepresented elderly, young, minority and low income voters that disproportionately tend to  not have photo ID, along with the fact that there is no significant evidence of polling-place voter impersonation anywhere in the country, this largely partisan debate appears to have only one cost - the right to vote - and no benefit.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, as many as 11 percent of U.S. citizens would not be able to the meet strict government issued photo ID mandates that five states currently enforce and several more are considering. Based on U.S. mobility figures, the number of Americans unable to present ID with current address is just as significant. According to U.S. Census data, between 2005 and 2006, 13 percent of Americans changed residence, an average that skyrockets when reviewing mobility among voting age youth and minorities. Whereas 21 million Americans would be unable to prove identity to meet these strict requirements, no one has been able to prove there is any real problem with voter impersonation at the polls

On Jan. 14, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the oft-challenged Georgia voter ID law, claiming that concerns of disenfranchising voters were simply "outweighed by the interests of Georgia in safeguarding the right to vote." However, the law's most recent challenger, the NAACP, "claims the state never proved a valid reason for the new requirements," according to the Associated Press. The group estimates that between 289,000 and 505,000 Georgians do not have a driver's licenses and "argued it was 'implausible' that all of them would have another form of approved ID."

Using a similar argument that voter ID was imperative to protect the "fundamental right to vote," Republicans have "sparked deep partisan tension in Texas" by moving to weaken filibuster rules with the ultimate purpose of advancing a voter ID bill, according to the Associated Press. The voter ID fight is nothing new to the state, which had "deadlocked on the issue two years ago."

Although Governor Rick Perry recently claimed that asking for voter ID "is not asking too much" in a Jan. 15 Fort Worth Star-Telegram report, he did not cite a reason why the state would need such a law in the first place. Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst claims protecting the right to vote while preventing voter fraud is key, saying that "at the end of the day, there is nothing more fundamental than the right to vote and the sanctity of one person, one vote." However, a recent investigation by the state Attorney General's office found 22 prosecutions for election-related crimes, none of which are cases of voter impersonation at the polls, the only crime a voter ID law would prevent, according to the Star-Telegram on Tuesday.

Therefore, "there is no reason to believe that there is a need for more onerous identification requirements to ensure election security," said Dustin Rynders, an attorney with Advocacy Inc, a group that represents people with disabilities.

Like Georgia and Texas - states that have yet to prove the necessity for voter ID -  Mississippi Sen. David Jordan (D-Greenwood) concluded that the state had no "significant number of cases of fraud involving voter ID" after pressing Republican Elections Committee Chairman Terry Burton for examples of how voter ID could have prevented voter fraud.

Just as the evidence of voter fraud is lacking in the state, so is the concern for voters who would be affected by a voter ID requirement. Last week, the Mississippi Senate passed a voter ID bill, much to the disappointment of Republican officials who disapproved of an added provision exempting voters born before 1946 from the providing voter ID, according to the Associated Press. The provision, added by Sen. David Blount (D-Jackson), appeared to lessen opposition to the bill, lending to its passage.

``We need a law that respects our seniors, especially those who personally experienced having their constitutional right to vote denied,'' Blount said.

With Republican officials considering the exemption of elderly voters a "loophole," the bill has since been held on a motion to reconsider, "a move designed to get a stronger bill," according to the Desoto Times earlier this week.

A similar bill in the House also received criticisms by state Republican Chairman Brad White, who said  it was "watered down" election reform that would "do nothing to enhance the security or integrity of our election system," according to another AP report.

Last week, nine states filed or introduced bills to require voters to present identification at the polls. To monitor these bills, visit www.ElectionLegislation.org (registration required).


Quick Links:

Voter ID Requirements Web Page. Project Vote.

Policy Brief on Voter Identification. Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. 2006.

Minnite, Lorraine. The Politics of Voter Fraud. Project Vote. March 2007.

Citizens Without Proof: A Survey of Americans' Possession of Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Identification. Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. 2006.

Barreto, M. et. al. The Disproportionate Impact of Indiana Voter ID Requirements on the Electorate. Nov. 2007.

Hood, M.V. And Charles S. Bullock. Worth a Thousand Words? An Analysis of Georgia's Voter Identification Statute. University of Georgia. 2007.



In Other News:

Make Absentee Voting Easier for Military Members - Roll Call
Ever since the 2000 election's Florida controversy, problems with absentee voting by our military personnel overseas have been on the minds of election reformers - but not so much on the agenda of election officials.

Bills aim to recast elections - Tulsa World [Okla.]
OKLAHOMA CITY - A number of bills filed for the upcoming session propose changes to the state's election laws.

Tags: disenfranchisement, elderly, election integrity, Georgia, low income, minority, Mississippi, Project Vote, texas, voter id, Voters, Voting Rights, youth (all tags)

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