Weekly Voting Rights News Update
This an entry in a series of blogs to keep people informed on current election reform and voting rights issues in the news.
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Voter ID is back in the news this week: Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel announced that photo ID is required to vote in the state's Sept. 18 elections in about 18 counties, according to Jim Galloway of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This is bad news for increasing voter participation, but good news to those who have adamantly sought the passage of policies that suppress voters in the name of the phantom issue of “voter fraud.”
Handel “made the move despite the likelihood that opponents will seek another court order blocking implementation,” Galloway wrote. Two lawsuits thwarted enforcement of the state requirement to present government-issued photo ID at the polls in recent elections. But, one case was dismissed last month and the other, a federal case brought by Common Cause of Georgia, may go back to court on August 22.
“'Hopefully, [the judge] will reinstate the injunction, as he has done three times previously,'” Emmet Bondurant, lead plaintiff's attorney in the Common Cause lawsuit.
“Judges have agreed with voting rights advocates, who point out that it is unconstitutional to construct barriers to the ballot box,” wrote Cynthia Tucker for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution editorial board. Studies have shown voter ID requirements hinder voter participation among minority, elderly and low income voters.
According to a 2006 Election Assistance Commission study, an analysis of the impact of voter identification laws on over turnout revealed that there was a 2.7% decrease in overall turnout in states that required documentary ID compared to states that required voters to give their names. The decrease in voter turnout is dramatically higher among minorities. For example, among registered voters in the 2004 Current Population Survey, Latino voters in states that required a form of ID were 10% less likely to say they had voted compared to Latinos in states where ID was not required. Black (5.7%) and Asian (8.5%) voters reported the same. Moreover, a Brennan Center for Justice study found that more than 21 million (11%) of Americans do not have government-issued photo ID, such as driver's licenses or state ID.
“Of course, that's the very reason the Republican Party has embraced strict voter ID laws in the state legislatures across the country: Those laws shave off a small number of voters who tend to support Democrats. In close races, that can make the difference,” Tucker wrote.
Handel said she had a “comprehensive outreach program” that will educate voters on the new requirements. “But that's not enough,” Tucker said, calling the overall measure “political gamesmanship,” unless Handell launches a program to get every Georgia voter a state-sponsored ID within the next three years. However, she said, “it would require money to purchase vans and buses to go into rural areas as well as resources to help the elderly and poor secure any documentation they might need to prove citizenship.”
“Political gamesmanship” has come up regarding the recent EAC report on voter fraud. The commission is currently being investigated by Congress as a result of potential political pressure by the Bush administration to change the results in their December 2006 voter fraud report, which the bi-partisan panel “strongly denies,” according to Pam Fessler of Pam Fessler of NPR. Tova Wang of the Century Foundation, one of two consultants commissioned to help with the report said, “we found that the instances of voter impersonation at the polls – polling place fraud - is pretty overstated.” What the commission released was “substantially different” from the report she and colleague, Republican election attorney Job Serebrov originally submitted, which found that “polling place fraud is not a big problem.”
“News of the EAC's revision also came at the same time as revelations that the Justice Department targeted U.S. attorneys for not going after voter fraud cases. Commission members deny that any of this was a factor for them,” Fessler said. Interestingly, former DOJ Civil Rights attorney and current controversial Federal Elections Commissioner nominee Hans von Spakovsky complained about Tova Wang in a 2005 email, saying her “pronounced partisan and one-sided view of voter fraud issues” should be grounds for the EAC to reconsider her contract. He was on the EAC advisory board at that time.