Posted by: JanF | April 4, 2011

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Voter’s rights are under attack in a number of states. Will the right-wing succeed in disenfranchising key Democratic voting blocs before the 2012 election?

Elections and the right to vote are the cornerstone of our democracy. The original constitution gave suffrage only to landowners who were, by definition, white males. Various amendments gave voting rights to freed slaves and women and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed to put an end to widespread discriminatory practices involving southern states.

Voting rights are under attack again, this time to keep the pool of eligible voters as small as possible. It is not quite white male landowners although that would be fine with the tea party.

From the National Conference on State Legislatures (NCSL) here is a recap of the current voter id laws:

Twenty-seven states have broader voter identification requirements than what HAVA mandates (note, however that the newly passed requirement in Oklahoma does not take effect until July 1, 2011). In these states, all voters are asked to show identification prior to voting. Eight of these states specify that voters must show a photo ID; the other nineteen states accept additional forms of identification that do not necessarily include a photo. In no state is a voter who cannot produce identification turned away from the polls—all states have some sort of recourse for voters without identification to cast a vote. However, in Georgia and Indiana, voters without ID vote a provisional ballot, and must return to election officials within a few days and show a photo ID in order for their ballots to be counted.

A glut of new laws

Changes to voter id legislation is pending in Minnesota, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Tennessee, and Iowa. Additionally:

The Montana House passed a voter ID bill last month and similar laws have been introduced in Connecticut, Maine, Alaska, Maryland, Virginia, New Mexico, Alaska, Illinois, Iowa, Montana and Nebraska. And in a number of states — including Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina and Tennessee — conservative lawmakers have introduced bills requiring proof of citizenship to register to vote.

Georgia today received pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice for their voter id law:

Act 143 was signed into law by Governor Sonny Perdue on May 5, 2009 and requires those registering to vote to submit evidence of United States citizenship with their applications.

There are many forms of acceptable identification, including a Georgia driver’s license number or identification card number, birth certificate, U.S. passport, U.S. naturalization documents or alien registration number, and a copy of a driver’s license or identification card from any state whose cards comply with the requirements of the federal REAL ID Act of 2005.

It’s fraud!
The stated purpose of voter id laws is to eliminate voter fraud. That would be the voter fraud that has the True the Vote group so excited. That same voter fraud that the Bush Administration “investigated” … which led to convictions in 86 cases out of 196,000,000 votes cast from 2005 to 2008.

The Brennan Foundation identifies the key issues of surrounding voter id laws:

* Restrictive voter identification policies – especially those that require state-issued photo ID cards – threaten to exclude millions of eligible voters.
* As many as 10% of eligible voters do not have, and will not get, the documents required by strict voter ID laws. For some groups, the percentage is much higher.
* ID requirements fall hardest on people who have traditionally faced barriers at the polls.
* ID requirements are not justified by any serious or widespread problem.
* There is no reason for states to implement burdensome ID requirements.
* States that do require proof of identity at the polls should permit an expansive range of proof.

The biggest fear is disenfranchisement of new voters from 2008.

CampusProgress.org discusses the pushback in New Hampshire where state legislators sought to have all non-resident students barred from voting:

Rather than seeking to persuade young voters on the issues, these conservatives are aiming to restrict access to voting through draconian measures. Their efforts are raising the ire of College Democrats and College Republicans alike. The president of the College Republicans at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, Richard Sunderland, tells Campus Progress that the GOP should focus on bringing “younger students into the fold as Republicans, as opposed to this, which seems like more of an attack.”

Look at this troubling graphic:
Students

From TPM Muckraker

“It’s unbelievable, probably half the states in the country have bills in play and more than a dozen are seriously in the pipeline,” Tova Wang of the left-leaning think tank Demos told TPM in an interview. “It’s really unprecedented in terms of geographic scope. I’ve never seen anything like it certainly since I’ve been working on voting rights issues that voter suppression bills would be introduced in so many places at the same time.”

“Definitely students are a target here. It’s totally clear to me that you saw in 2008 this unprecedented historic turnout among African-Americans, Latinos and young people — and those happen to be the exact groups of people that are being targeted by these laws to disenfranchise them, and that’s really sad,” Wang said.

The law in Alaska:

(a) Before being allowed to vote, each voter shall exhibit to an election official
08 one form of personal identification that contains a photograph. Under this section,
09 permitted forms of personal identification include a valid and current
10 (1) Alaska driver’s license;
11 (2) identification card issued by a branch, department, agency, or
12 entity of the state, any other state, or the United States government;
13 (3) United States passport;
14 (4) employee identification card issued by any branch, department,
15 agency, or entity of the United States government, the state, or a municipality of the
16 state;
17 (5) United States military identification card;
18 (6) student identification card issued by a high school or an accredited
19 institution of higher education, as that term is defined under AS 23.20.520, located in
20 the state; or
21 (7) tribal identification card.

The law in Wisconsin:

this bill requires each eligible elector who attempts to register or to vote at the polls on election day to present a valid Wisconsin driver’s license issued to the person by the Department of Transportation (DOT), a valid, current identification card issued to the person by a U.S. uniformed service, or a valid Wisconsin identification card issued to the person by DOT or, if DOT implements the provisions of the federal REAL ID Act, an identification certificate issued to the person by DOT (see below).

The law in West Virginia:

(a) Any person desiring to vote in an election shall, upon entering the election room, clearly state his or her name and residence to one of the poll clerks who shall thereupon announce the same in a clear and distinct tone of voice. The person desiring to vote shall present to one of the poll clerks an identifying document which contains the name, address and a photograph of the person desiring to vote, which the poll clerk shall inspect and confirm is truly an image of the person presenting the document.

The model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC):

This legislation requires any United States citizen[i] desiring to vote in a state to provide proof of identity at the polls, outlines permissible provisional ballots, and optionally[ii] provides for a free ID to those who do not have a driver’s license.

And what is that pesky little [ii]?

[ii]Because numerous United States Supreme Court decisions have been interpreted to hold that government may not require citizens to pay any fee in exchange for the right to vote, bill drafters may wish to include a section that mandates the provision of publicly funded ID cards without cost to those citizens who request them.

(For the record, the [l] helpfully describes a “Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act” which suggests requirements for proof of citizenship. That ALEC, always looking out for its franchisees!)

From Tea Party Nation:

Any person desiring to vote must show a photo id with a pale complexion and non-hispanic surname. An NRA membership card may be used in lieu of photo id.

Okay, I made that one up.

State are responsible for voter registration and identification and there does not appear to be a concerted effort, as of yet, to put a federal law in place. Even House Republicans probably realize it is a hopeless cause because Democrats hold the Senate and the White House and any legislation is unlikely to be passed into law. However, there seem to be interest in ginning up concern:

Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS), chairman of House Subcommittee on Elections, held a hearing this week to examine reports of voting by non-citizens and raised the specter of voter fraud.

“Congress often focuses on increasing access to voter registration — making it easier for everyone to participate in elections,” Harper said in a statement. “And that is a goal that we must continuously pursue; however, we must also ensure that easing access to voter registration isn’t also, inadvertently, increasing vulnerabilities to voter fraud.”

The sad part about this? The fear of the non-existent voter fraud hyped up by the right-wing has led to a majority of people to be in favor of some form of voter id bill:

Democrats face an uphill battle in convincing the American public why voter ID laws can be problematic … polls show that the majority of Americans support voter ID bill — Fox found 83 percent approved of such laws in 2009, while an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll put the number at 81 percent in 2006.

The cost of new voter id laws can be high. From the Brennan Center again:

Based on a comprehensive review of every court case in which a photo ID law has been challenged, this paper examines of the costs states must incur if they decide to implement photo ID requirements for voters.

In a difficult fiscal environment, citizens may reasonably question whether there are more pressing needs on which to spend their tax dollars than photo ID rules, and state legislators should seriously consider whether photo ID laws are worth their considerable costs

If the goal were eliminating voter fraud, the costs might be part of the consideration regarding implementation. If the goal is to curtail voting by certain groups that the current legislators consider hostile to their agenda, it is likely that concern about costs will not carry much weight.

Do they “work”?
Amanda Terkel from The Prospect on the efficacy of voter id laws :

There is no credible evidence of rampant voter fraud at polling places nationwide. Sure, there may be ballot box stuffing, electronic voter machine hacking, and list manipulation. Voter ID laws, however, don’t address these problems. Of the 38 cases of voter fraud the Justice Department prosecuted between 2002 and 2005, 14 were thrown out. With no credible studies to back up their allegations of voter fraud, conservatives even established a front group led by the general counsel of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign to create such reports.

She was writing an article about the 2005 Indiana voter id law that was pending before the Supreme Court Crawford v. Marion County Election Board:

“You want us to invalidate a statute on the ground that it’s a minor inconvenience to a small percentage of voters?” Kennedy asked Paul Smith, who argued the case for the Indiana Democratic Party. Justice Antonin Scalia wondered why the court should “wash away the whole statute” to remedy the “inconvenience to a small number of people.” Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher tried to argue to the justices that only “an infinitesimal portion of the electorate could even be, conceivably be, burdened by” the law.

Voter ID laws, however, affect more than an “infinitesimal” number of Americans and are more than a “minor inconvenience.” According to the federal government, there are as many as 21 million voting-age Americans without driver’s licenses. In Indiana, 13 percent of registered voters lack the documents needed to obtain a license, and therefore, cast a ballot. These restrictions disproportionately hit low-income, minority, handicapped, and elderly voters the hardest, leading to lower levels of voter participation.

That law was upheld by the Supreme Court.

Making the total vote ‘small enough’
From Think Progress:

Yet conservatives have long shown little interest in the legality, fairness or cost of restricting voting. In 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt told union members that “there are some political candidates who think that they may have a chance of election, if only the total vote is small enough.” Seven decades later it seems that this strategy is once again in vogue for American conservatives

As an aside, here is another eye-opening quote from that same FDR speech:

But, you know, even those candidates who burst out in election-year affection for social legislation and for labor in general, still think that you ought to be good boys and stay out of politics. And above all, they hate to see any working man or woman contribute a dollar bill to any wicked political party. Of course, it is all right for large financiers and industrialists and monopolists to contribute tens of thousands of dollars – but their solicitude for that dollar which the men and women in the ranks of labor contribute is always very touching.

Shades of Citizens United! They were merely waiting for the “right” court. And that court will probably not be very helpful in this fight either.

Some questions to ponder:
1. Can a voter id bill that requires a special photo id card ever be fair?
2. If students are not allowed to use their student id cards, will that have a chilling effect on the youth vote? Will students make an effort to vote absentee in their home state?
3. Are there any effective remedies at the federal level to challenge these new voter id laws given Crawford v. Marion County Election Board?
4. Will the youth from 2008 refuse to be disenfranchised?

(A version of this was originally posted on 04/04/2011 at BPI Campus)

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