This an entry in a series of blogs to keep people informed on current election reform and voting rights issues in the news.
Featured Stories of the Week:
Voter ID appears dead in Senate: Republicans still favor the bill – Austin American Statesman
Chaos breaks out in Senate over voter ID bill – Associated Press
Rest in peace: A bad bill that would have made voting harder meets a deserved fate in the Texas Legislature – Houston Chronicle, Editorial
Voter ID bill needed – Kerrville Daily Times, Editorial
Two UGA researchers: Democrats had cause to worry about the voter ID law - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Last winter, Project Vote reported “there is virtually no evidence that voters engage in voter impersonation - the only kind of fraud addressed by additional ID requirements - with any frequency.” As the seemingly endless reports from the US Attorney scandal have exposed, the U.S. Attorneys were fired because they could not find evidence of voter fraud – because it simply does not exist. These negative findings undercut the primary rationale of pushing allegations of large-scale “voter fraud” to justify the passage of proven voter suppression tactics, like voter identification laws. Officials in the Bush Administration have used the machinery of the Justice Department to pursue a strictly partisan agenda of voter suppression, aimed squarely at minorities and low-income voters. In Texas, partisans seem bent on the same mission, though through the legal means of the legislative process. This has led to a dramatic confrontation in the Lone Star State over the passage of a Voter ID bill.
There, the GOP tried with all their might to consider voter ID bill HB 218 before Wednesday's deadline, as if the Department of Justice's voter fraud scandal didn’t exist. This week alone, several reports claim voter fraud is a smokescreen to gain partisan advantage by suppressing the vote of marginalized communities. These stories were printed in a variety of publications, including this story and this outstanding column in the Washington Post, Slate, and the Las Vegas Sun. Tuesday, “Democrats barely blocked consideration of a voter identification bill” in the Senate, according to the Associated Press. The vote was close and conducted under highly unusual circumstances as Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst “brought the bill up right after the morning prayer...when minor legislation is usually considered,” and did not count Sen. John Whitmire's vote. Outraged, Democratic Senators called for a second vote to include Whitmire and Sen. Carlos Uresti, who arrived, suffering chills and a fever from the flu, just to vote against the bill. “Under Senate Rules, two-thirds of the chamber, or 21 Senators, must agree to bring a bill up for debate,” the AP story said. The vote showed Senate support to be 20-11.
“Right now, only 20 members are willing to vote for this bill,” Dewhurst said in the Austin American-Statesman. “ Regrettably, unless somebody's absent, I don't think it's going to come up again.” HB 218 passed the House on April 24.
Counting the days to the May 23 deadline to pass the bill, two Texas papers published editorials with diametrically opposed views. The Kerrville Daily Times said “American citizens should not have to so emphatically prove they belong at a polling place before they can cast their ballots,” but then called the American right to vote a “privilege” that “unfortunately,” required identification at the polls to ensure Americans are the only ones to receive it out of fear that elections are “tainted by non-U.S. Citizens.”
The Daily Times gets it wrong. Voting is not a privilege. It is a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. It is one of the few rights in which the ability to exercise it (when you vote, where you vote, what machines are used, how the counting works, etc) is completely controlled by the government. Given this reality, it is, therefore, the responsibility of the government to ensure that laws regulating voting serve to encourage access to the ballot. Any laws protecting the integrity of the ballot must also be sure that they safeguard the right of more people than they block. Voter identification laws clearly fail this test.
Fortunately, the Houston Chronicle got it right, calling the voter ID bill “sloppily crafted, partisan legislation,” and further saying “none of the bill's proponents produced evidence of widespread voter impersonation.” The Chronicle went on to say that “with Texas ranked next to last in the United States in voter participation, the last thing this state needs is a law that would suppress turnout at the polls.”
“Voters who lack a driver's license as ID are less likely to vote, particularly in general elections,” thus “requiring certain forms of photo identification to vote would most likely diminish turnout among this group even further,” according to the findings of two University of Georgia political scientists, as reported in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The evidence suggests that it is indeed Democrats who are less likely to be in possession of a valid driver's license,” they wrote, adding that non-white voters, “women and older Georgians” are least likely to possess identification. Democratic objections against a high-profile Georgia voter ID case that has been linked to the Department of Justice scandal for being pursued despite DOJ career staff objections for lack of evidence of voter fraud.
The idea of passing legislation that would only serve to protect against “widespread voter fraud” – something that is found to be a partisan hoax to suppress the votes of marginalized communities – is a giant leap backward in ensuring election integrity.
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