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Red State Officials Appear Intent on Reducing Voter Participation

Cross-Posted at Project Vote's Voting Matter's Blog

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

by Erin Ferns

Last week we wrote about how partisan-fueled voter fraud rumors are leading election reform debates, potentially changing the way many Americans vote in future elections. With at least one state swiftly moving a bill to require all voter applicants to present proof of citizenship before registering to vote, and another strongly supporting the passage of voter ID, the threat of voter disenfranchisement looms ahead.

Overzealous Citizenship Requirements at Registration

Current law requires voter applicants to take an oath of citizenship when registering to vote. In February, bills requiring voters to go beyond current law to present proof of citizenship gained media attention. The Georgia Legislature introduced a number of related bills, with the approval of Republican secretary of state and gubernatorial hopeful, Karen Handel. She endorsed the bills despite the fact that her office's investigation had yet to substantiate any claims of illegal voting by non-citizens as a result of fraudulent voter registration, according to a Feb. 4  Associated Press report.

“These citizenship bills are even more devastating than the ID bills; they hit a lot more people,'' Neil Bradley, associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project told the AP. Up until this year, the state had endured several battles over the constitutionality of its requirement for voters to present photographic proof of identity when voting in person.

Despite the lack of evidence pointing to a need for the requirement, which “violates the National Voter Registration Act” and “creates a poll tax by forcing people who are missing their birth certificates or naturalization papers to have to buy new ones,” proof-of-citizenship bill S.B. 86 was expected to pass the Senate on Tuesday, but not without hearing from voters and advocates, according to a blog entry at the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  The League of Women Voters of Georgia urged its members to call their senators and ask them not to pass the bill, which would leave “countless U.S. citizens…needlessly inconvenienced.” “[A]s a result of the increased hassle,” the LWVG wrote, those citizens may “simply choose not to register to vote.”

Despite the uproar and a two-hour “heated debate,” S.B. 86 passed in the Senate 34-20, the Associated Press reported yesterday. “It now moves to the House.”

As we wrote in a blog entry on Feb. 12, in enacting a citizenship requirement “Georgia would join Arizona in legalizing voter disenfranchisement. Since adopting the measure in 2004, more than 38,000 voter registration applications in Arizona have been thrown out, according to a May 2008 report in the New York Times. “More than 70 percent of those registrations came from people who stated under oath that they were born in the United States, the data showed.”

“At some point, at some time, we've got to say enough is enough. And ask, do we have any shame?” said state Sen. Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta)in yesterday's AP report. “This is nothing but a poll tax. you can amend and soften it out however you want to, but this is a poll tax.”

A Partisan Battle to Pass Strict Photo Voter ID

Currently, the Help America Vote Act requires first-time applicants who register by mail to provide proof of identity at the polls that includes a broad range of documents. However, eight states go above and beyond federal law by requiring or requesting current, photographic proof of identity only, a measure that has been repeatedly battled on constitutional grounds as the number of legitimate voters without proper ID trumps the number of fraudulent votes that occur in elections. This issue, often divided on partisan lines, appears to be gaining ground – as well as a reputation for being rife with partisan politics – in Texas.

“Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay, has alerted senators he plans to bring up the bill before a special committee that includes all senators March 10,” according to the San Angelo Standard Times. “That could make Voter ID legislation the first substantive, non-emergency bill to hit the Senate floor during the 2009 session.”

“Democrats say the legislation is designed to bolster GOP strength at the voting booth because it will discourage minorities, the elderly and other voters who lean Democratic not to show up at the polls.” According to the report, Democratic Sen. Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio said Republican officials in the Red state are “desperate” to pass a voter ID law out of fear that “Democrats can pick up seats in the house next go around.” Additionally, “Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, a Republican said to be eyeing higher office, supports the voter ID and may cast a rare vote. Dewhurst can vote when the special Senate panel – called the 'committee of the whole' – convenes.”

The bill is expected to pass the Senate since Republicans weakened filibuster rules in an effort to “break the logjam on legislation” earlier this year. However, Senate Democrats are hopeful that “their counterparts in the House, where Republicans have a narrow 76-74 majority, can block it.”


Quick Links:

Voter ID Requirements. Project Vote.

Politics of Voter Fraud. Lorraine Minnite, Ph.D. March 5, 2007.

In Other News:

OPINION: Voting reforms have made elections worse – The Denver Post
The Colorado Election Reform Commission (CERC) was created in the last legislative session to study possible election reforms. It has now adjourned after three months. Several election bills are already being considered in the legislature, and more will follow as a result of the CERC's recommendations.

Having their say: PUSH HEIGHTENS FOR ELECTION DAY VOTER REGISTRATION  – Worcester Telegram & Gazette
WORCESTER — In last year's presidential election, 1,046 city residents showed up at the polls to cast their ballots, only to be told that their names did not appear on the voting rolls.

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