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More states require ID to vote

Rigging elections under the guise of preventing voter fraud.

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More states require ID to vote

By Fredreka Schouten, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON — State legislatures across the country have passed a record number of laws this year requiring photo identification to vote, a controversial move pushed by Republicans and opposed by Democrats.

David Axelrod, a top strategist in President Obama's re-election campaign, called the wave of new legislation a "calculated strategy" by Republicans to "hold down voter turnout."

Proponents say the measures prevent vote fraud. Opponents say they are designed to stifle turnout among students, poor people and minorities, who are more likely to vote for Democrats but might lack government-issued IDs, such as driver's licenses and passports.

Buoyed by big Republican gains in the 2010 elections, six states have enacted photo ID laws since January — Alabama, Kansas, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Bills in New Hampshire and North Carolina await gubernatorial action.

The measures, all passed by Republican-controlled legislatures, could bring to 17 the number of states with photo ID requirements and come nearly 18 months before elections for Congress and the White House. Other states — including Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia— have reduced the period for early voting.

In Florida, a key battleground state, a law signed last month by Republican Gov. Rick Scott also restricts efforts to register new voters by groups such as the League of Women Voters.

"It's remarkable," Jennie Bowser, a senior fellow at the National Conference of State Legislatures, said of the proliferation of new laws. In all, 33 states have considered new voter ID laws this year. "I very rarely see one single issue come up in so many state legislatures in a single session," she said. "This issue has historically fallen along stark partisan lines. Democrats tend to oppose voter ID, and Republicans tend to favor it. This year, there are a lot of new Republican majorities in legislatures."

Republicans now control both legislative chambers in 26 states, up from 14 in 2010.

David Axelrod, a top strategist in President Obama's re-election campaign, called the wave of new legislation a "calculated strategy" by Republicans to "hold down voter turnout."

"I find it ironic at a time when all over the world people are struggling, marching, even dying, for the right to vote and cast meaningful votes that anybody in this country would be working to limit the franchise," Axelrod told USA TODAY.

He said the campaign would "organize vigorously" to make voters aware of the new requirements.

"This is the most significant assault on voting rights that we have seen in a long time," said Wendy Weiser of New York University's Brennan Center for Justice, which opposes the new rules.

Proponents say the changes have little to do with politics.

State Rep. Patricia Harless, a Houston Republican who sponsored the voter ID measure in the Texas House of Representatives, said the new law is "just a way to help protect the integrity of in-person voting."

The Texas law bars the use of student identification cards for voting, but allows the use of concealed weapons permits. for that purpose. Harless said information provided on student IDs across the state is inconsistent and few Texans lack driver's licenses and other approved forms of identification.

"Texas, you know, is a big handgun state," she said, "so everybody has almost got a concealed handgun license over 21." Like other states requiring photo IDs, Texas also will provide state-issued IDs to voters who seek them, free of charge.

Experts on election law say there is scant evidence of voter fraud problems in U.S. elections, but they say it's also too soon to tell whether new voter ID requirements will hurt turnout.

"I am skeptical of all claims made in this arena," said Charles Stewart, an MIT political scientist and voting expert.

"Supporters of the voter ID laws have little evidence that there are problems with voting that would be solved by these laws," he said. "On the other hand … people who really care about laws about access to the polls oftentimes overestimate the effect of these reforms on turnout."


Rigging elections under the guise of preventing voter fraud. Or you need a government issued photo id to vote.

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How states are rigging the 2012 election

By E.J. Dionne Jr., Published: June 19

An attack on the right to vote is underway across the country through laws designed to make it more difficult to cast a ballot. If this were happening in an emerging democracy, we’d condemn it as election-rigging. But it’s happening here, so there’s barely a whimper.

The laws are being passed in the name of preventing “voter fraud.” But study after study has shown that fraud by voters is not a major problem — and is less of a problem than how hard many states make it for people to vote in the first place. Some of the new laws, notably those limiting the number of days for early voting, have little plausible connection to battling fraud.

These statutes are not neutral. Their greatest impact will be to reduce turnout among African Americans, Latinos and the young. It is no accident that these groups were key to Barack Obama’s victory in 2008 — or that the laws in question are being enacted in states where Republicans control state governments.

Again, think of what this would look like to a dispassionate observer. A party wins an election, as the GOP did in 2010. Then it changes the election laws in ways that benefit itself. In a democracy, the electorate is supposed to pick the politicians. With these laws, politicians are shaping their electorates.

Paradoxically, the rank partisanship of these measures is discouraging the media from reporting plainly on what’s going on. Voter suppression so clearly benefits the Republicans that the media typically report this through a partisan lens, knowing that accounts making clear whom these laws disenfranchise would be labeled as biased by the right. But the media should not fear telling the truth or standing up for the rights of the poor or the young.

The laws in question include requiring voter identification cards at the polls, limiting the time of early voting, ending same-day registration and making it difficult for groups to register new voters.

Sometimes the partisan motivation is so clear that if Stephen Colbert reported on what’s transpiring, his audience would assume he was making it up. In Texas, for example, the law allows concealed handgun licenses as identification but not student IDs. And guess what? Nationwide exit polls show that John McCain carried households in which someone owned a gun by 25 percentage points but lost voters in households without a gun by 32 points.

Besides Texas, states that enacted voter ID laws this year include Kansas, Wisconsin, South Carolina and Tennessee. Indiana and Georgia already had such requirements. The Maine Legislature voted to end same-day voter registration. Florida seems determined to go back to the chaos of the 2000 election. It shortened the early voting period, effectively ended the ability of registered voters to correct their address at the polls and imposed onerous restrictions on organized voter-registration drives.

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court, by 6 to 3, upheld Indiana’s voter ID statute. So seeking judicial relief may be difficult. Nonetheless, the Justice Department should vigorously challenge these laws, particularly in states covered by the Voting Rights Act. And the court should be asked to review the issue again in light of new evidence that these laws have a real impact in restricting the rights of particular voter groups.

“This requirement is just a poll tax by another name,” state Sen. Wendy Davis declared when Texas was debating its ID law early this year. In the bad old days, poll taxes, now outlawed by the 24th Amendment, were used to keep African Americans from voting. Even if the Supreme Court didn’t see things her way, Davis is right. This is the civil rights issue of our moment.

In part because of a surge of voters who had not cast ballots before, the United States elected its first African American president in 2008. Are we now going to witness a subtle return of Jim Crow voting laws?

Whether or not these laws can be rolled back, their existence should unleash a great civic campaign akin to the voter-registration drives of the civil rights years. The poor, the young and people of color should get their IDs, flock to the polls and insist on their right to vote in 2012.

If voter suppression is to occur, let it happen for all to see. The whole world, which watched us with admiration and respect in 2008, will be watching again.

ejdionne@washpost.com

 

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