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Carter-Baker Commissioner Backpedals on Voter ID

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Carter-Baker Commissioner Backpedals on Voter ID

When Shirley Malcolm was a girl of 10 growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, she helped her grandmother study for her voting test. Between literacy tests, poll taxes, and intimidation, her grandmother didn’t cast her first ballot until she was 70 years old, Malcolm recalls.

In 2005, Malcolm served on the Carter-Baker Commission for election reform, which released its recommendations for improving elections in October of that year. The most controversial recommendation was that voters be required provide a specific kind of government-issued photo ID at the polls. Malcolm endorsed that recommendation, but then she challenged a Georgia law that would require the same. Why the difference?

Shortly before the Carter-Baker Commission released its recommendations, Congress had passed the Real ID Act, mandating that states begin issuing what amounts to a national ID card. Malcolm said in an interview that her support of the Carter-Baker recommendation was “totally based on the idea that Real ID was going to happen.” If everyone would be carrying the card anyway, they could use it at the polls. Furthermore, the Carter-Baker Commission recommended that states actively work to get the cards into the hands of voters.

The Georgia law, on the other hand, was passed after many of the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles offices had been closed, so millions of voters would have to travel outside their own county to obtain the ID. In this and other ways, Malcolm said, “Georgia was way too onerous in terms of putting the onus on the voter” to obtain ID.

In some states people born in the U.S. must prove their citizenship by showing a birth certificate before ID can be issued. Malcolm explained that when she was growing up, “for people of a certain age” proof of birth was “within the family Bible.” In her grandmother’s case, “there was no birth certificate.”

Recently states have been challenging Real ID, and some state legislatures are voting to opt out. It’s possible that the new Congress will repeal the law. If Real ID were not in the picture, would Malcolm have signed on to the Carter-Baker Commission’s Voter ID recommendation? Her answer was unequivocal: “No, I would not have.”

This article originally appeared in Senior Focus, a community newspaper in the Denver area. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.


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Meg E. Cox is a freelance writer, editor, and book indexer in Chicago. She writes a monthly newspaper column on voting rights and electoral administration, and her feature articles have appeared in several national magazines.

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