Weekly Voting Rights News Update
By Erin Ferns
Requiring proof-of-citizenship in order to register to vote is the latest addition to voter suppression arsenal. Spurred by Arizona's 2004 implementation of proof of citizenship requirements and the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to uphold Indiana's strict voter ID law, proof of citizenship bills - often coupled with voter ID - are gaining traction across the country. With more than 13 million Americans lacking ready access to citizenship documentation and scant evidence of voter registration fraud by non-citizens (or any voter for that matter) leading to illegal votes, proof of citizenship requirements could have a significant impact on the electorate. Wasting no time after the high court's decision, the neighboring states of Kansas and Missouri have swiftly moved forward with efforts to pass such legislation. Both states are pushing schemes that could take effect in the November election.
Missouri's HJR 48 - a constitutional amendment to require proof of identification at the polls - also requires proof of citizenship in order register to vote. As the New York Times reported on the front page Monday, "sponsors of the amendment -- which requires the approval of voters to go into effect, possibly in an August referendum -- say it is part of an effort to prevent illegal immigrants from affecting the political process. Critics say the measure could lead to the disenfranchisement of tens of thousands of legal residents who would find it difficult to prove their citizenship."
Missouri's own Secretary of State, Robin Carnahan estimates 300,000 voters could be disenfranchised this November for what she considers to be a Republican wild goose chase for "'mythical problems,'" according to ConsortiumNews.com and the Associated Press, respectively.
Carnahan questions the type of "voter fraud" cited by advocates - including the ultimately rectified voter registration of a dog - as none of it would be resolved by voter ID, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune: "Have we had instances of improper voting registrations? Yes. Have we had instances of improper absentee voting? Yes. Is this government ID to vote going to impact any of those? No."
Carnahan said there have been no reports of voter impersonation fraud in the state, rendering requirements to prove citizenship to register and identity to vote useless at best and disenfranchising at worst.
The situation in Missouri is especially urgent as the state Senate must decide the fate of the constitutional amendment before the legislative session ends Friday. And even if the amendment fails to come to a vote, the governor has the option to call a special session just to consider this highly partisan (it passed in the Missouri State House on a strict party-line vote) measure. Advocates are preparing for the worst and gearing up to fight the amendment at the ballot box in August.
Rapidly progressing proof-of-citizenship/voter ID hybrid legislation is not exclusive to Missouri. Last week, Kansas' legislature approved HB 2019, a measure to require both proof of citizenship at registration from first-time applicants and voter ID from all voters at the polls. Despite approval by the legislature, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' office is expected to veto the bill "as she has other voter ID legislation in the past," according to the Wichita Eagle.
"To its earliest proponents, voter registration was intended as an anti-fraud safeguard" and occurrences of fraud have been rare, according to Project Vote report, "The Politics of Voter Fraud." According to the report, between 2002 and 2005, 21 non-citizens were prosecuted for voter registration fraud across the country. Four of these were dismissed, one was acquitted, three pleaded guilty and thirteen were convicted.
And despite their best efforts, the federal government was only able to secure convictions of 11 non citizens for voting illegally during the same period. That is to say, 11 votes out of 214 million cast for federal elections were by non citizens.
In addition to allegedly preventing the rare crimes of voter registration fraud and voter impersonation fraud - crimes for which there are already laws on the books to prevent - citizenship and ID requirements create obstacles for many Americans who want to participate in the democratic electoral process. Polling data by a Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law survey found that 13 million individuals were without ready access to citizenship documentation, including birth certificate, passports and naturalization papers.
Currently, only Arizona requires proof of citizenship to register to vote. Since adopting the measure in 2004, more than 38,000 voter registration applications have been thrown out, according to the New York Times. "More than 70 percent of those registrations came from people who stated under oath that they were born in the United States, the data showed."
To date, Project Vote has monitored proof-of-citizenship bills introduced in 19 states, including Kansas' HB 2019 and Missouri's HJR 48. Currently, 11 states have pending proof of citizenship legislation. To track these bills, visit Project Vote election bill tracking website, ElectionLegislation.org.
The following states are considering proof of citizenship requirements at registration as of May 15, 2008: Calif., Ill., Kan., Mass., Mich., Minn., Mo., N.Y., Okla., S.C., and Tenn.
For more information on the fight in Missouri contact Laura Egerdal at 314-363-5571 or Missourians for Fair Elections at email@example.com.
Pending Proof of Citizenship Bills: