In a near party-line vote, a Republican-authored measure that would force voters to present government-issued proof of citizenship at polling places in order to cast a vote was passed Thursday, September 21.
This likely disproportionality means that the Republican-authored bill aims at disenfranchising large sections of several classes of voters, many of whom often do not support Republican candidates or policies.
But it also likely that millions of citizens who fall outside these groupings would have to pay some additional fees to obtain the right to vote. An AFL-CIO letter aimed at members of Congress pointed out that only 25% of Americans hold passports, and that the majority of state ID's do not require proof of citizenship. Therefore, most voters would be required to purchase new documentation in order to obtain the right to vote.
In a letter to the Committee on House Administration, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), a coalition of civil rights and labor organizations, stated, "no citizen should have to pay to vote."
The letter also questioned the purported rationale of supporters of the bill who claim the law is needed to decrease voter fraud. According to LCCR, voter fraud based on misrepresentation of voter identity is nearly non-existent. A League of Women Voters report indicates that voter fraud of this type was a statistically insignificant amount (.00004%) in 2002 and 2004. In Ohio, for example, out of millions of votes cast in those two election cycles, only 4 were found to fall under the type of voter fraud targeted by this bill.
This bill does nothing to deal with real incidents of voter fraud, "including improper purges of voters, distributing false information about when and where to vote, stuffing ballot boxes, and tampering with registration forms," the LCCR letter stated.
The Director of the American Civil Liberties Union Legislative Office in Washington Caroline Fredrickson said, "Less than two months after the renewal of the Voting Rights Act, the House of Representatives has chosen to pass legislation disenfranchising the very citizens the VRA was designed to protect."
Theodore M. Shaw, Director-Counsel and President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund stated, "the bill effectively transforms the vote from a right to a privilege by elevating the privileged over those citizens who will disproportionately become ensnared in this voting trap." According to Shaw, the law represents a "retreat" from democracy. Shaw echoed the LCCR's rejection of the claim that the law will prevent fraud at polls.
Even if provisions to subsidize purchasing new documentation are considered, the Republican-authored bill "elevates an administrative requirement above a constitutionally protected right. That is un-American," Shaw added.
Shaw concluded, "We remain hopeful that the Senate will fully consider the foreseeable harmful impact of this bill and cast a meaningful vote for democracy and not another disappointing vote."
--Joel Wendland can be reached at email@example.com