Other than the Supreme Court's Citizen's United ruling, there are few issues that tear at the basic fabric of democracy as much as the current assault by Republican-controlled state houses to enact voter photo ID laws. These laws, which have been written by the national American Legislative Exchange Council, and then "cut and pasted" into different state legislation are aimed solely at restricting and suppressing eligible citizens from casting their vote.
Recent news about estimates of more than 758,000 eligible voters in Pennsylvania being unable to cast a ballot this November has shed a spotlight on what this law is all about -- restricting access to the polls for eligible voters who tend to vote Democratic.
Does anyone remember what caused former President George W. Bush's Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to finally resign? It was for the scandal surrounding the firing of eight U.S. Attorneys for their refusal to prosecute non-existent voter fraud. The Republican Party tried desperately to make "voter fraud" an issue from 2005-2010 and it simply could not be found -- anywhere. Not in any state in the nation.
Then in 2010 the Republicans took control of multiple state houses and POOF, like magic, back came voter fraud. The Republicans couldn't make it happen through the courts and the U.S. attorneys, so they found a much easier way. Get Republican controlled legislatures to pass ALEC legislation. Since 2010, 10 Republican-controlled states passed voter ID laws (Alabama, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin).
The reality is voter fraud is a rarity in the United States, and voter impersonation at the polls, the only incident that could be prevented by these restrictive voter ID laws, is virtually nonexistent. Most instances of improper voting involve registration and eligibility issues, none of which would be prevented by a state photo ID restriction. One academic study found photo ID restrictions would prevent less than one fraudulent vote for every 1,000 legitimate voters who would be excluded from voting by the requirement.
Simply put: If you buy into the need for voter photo ID, you simply have fallen for the lie of voter fraud.
This ugly assault on democracy has made its way to Minnesota, where I reside, in a slightly different format. Although the 2010 elections brought a Republican controlled state senate and house to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Democratic Governor Mark Dayton survived a recount vote -- without either side alleging voter fraud -- to take the governorship.
Running on that all too familiar jobs, jobs, jobs agenda, the Republicans turned immediately to trying to pass a voter photo ID law in 2011. Dayton vetoed it. After a shut down of the state government in July 2011, what was the first plan of action as the Republican legislature convened in January 2012? Voter photo ID again. This time though, they chose to bypass the governor's veto and put it on the ballot in November as an amendment to the state constitution.
Minnesota -- who continually leads the nation in voter turnout -- now faces the possibility of limiting voter rights and forcing estimates of more than 500,000 eligible voters from casting their vote if this initiative is allowed to stand as written.
The law currently is in the hands of the Minnesota Supreme Court based on court challenges that contend the language does not represent the full impact of the constitutional amendment.
The current language as passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature states:
"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require all voters to present valid photo identification to vote and to require the state to provide free identification to eligible voters, effective July 1, 2013?"
The Minnesota League of Women Voters does a magnificent job explaining what will really change and what's not mentioned in the amendment language. Click here to see the document.
The BRADBlog provided one of the most in-depth analyses of how the amendment changes forever Minnesota's rich tradition of voter turnout. Click here for more information.
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