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With Bills Nearing Enactment, Groups Slam Voter ID Regs

by Brendan Coyne

Feb. 6, 2006 – As legislatures in four states have passed laws requiring photographic identification at the polls, voting rights groups are alarmed at a trend they say appears to mark the resurgence of poll taxes and other voter-discouragement efforts, despite a lack of evidence that an ID fraud problem exists.

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Last week, Ohio Governor Robert Taft and Georgia Governor Sonny Purdue each signed laws mandating voters show government-issued photo IDs in order to cast their ballots.

Groups like the NAACP and the League of Women Voters had asked the governors to veto the laws, saying that they unconstitutionally impede ballot access.

Voting-rights groups worry that senior citizens and poor minorities – two groups that are less likely to have driver’s licenses or birth certificates and other documentation required to obtain accepted identification, will be turned away at the polls.

Lawmakers in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire recently passed similar legislation in the face of criticism, with supporters maintaining the laws are necessary to combat voter fraud.

Though the four bills differ in a number of ways, all are purportedly designed to combat a problem for which there is little hard evidence. Very little study has been conducted on the prevalence of voter fraud involving double-voting or voter impersonation. Meanwhile, proponents of measures to restrict voting have relied on anecdotal and vague evidence to support their measures.

On of the more comprehensive analyses of voter disenfranchisement in the US was conducted in 2003 for the progressive democracy think tank Demos. The researchers interviewed state officials in 12 states and scoured news databases for instances of prosecutable voter fraud. They concluded: "Election fraud appears to be very rare in the 12 states examined. Legal and news records turned up little evidence of significant fraud in these states or any indication that fraud is more than a minor problem. Interviews with state officials further confirmed this impression."

Friday, Demos issued a call for action against what they termed a "rollback in voting rights." The organization urged New Hampshire and Pennsylvania residents to contact their governors to express opposition to the new requirements and calling for greater focus on expanding the right to vote.

"The movement of voter ID legislation through state legislatures this year shows that all of the gains we have made in advancing voting rights and fair elections are under threat from regressive election law," the group said in its statement. In place of laws that might restrict people’s access to the polls, Demos called for Election Day registration, restoring voting rights to the formerly incarcerated, and investing more in hiring and recruiting trained election officials and poll workers.

The Pennsylvania arm of the League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan advocate of civic participation, similarly warned last week that the state’s House-approved ID law "disenfranchises voters." The group said, "Proponents have failed to document reliable proof that the integrity of any Pennsylvania election has been compromised."

Last year, Georgia moved to enact a law very similar to the one just passed, only to have a federal judge strike it down, agreeing with critics, in essence, that the law amounted to a poll tax reminiscent of the South’s Jim Crow era. In an effort to head off similar problems and attain Justice Department approval of the new version of the law, the state recently approved $500,000 to help economically disadvantaged people obtain proper ID, the Savannah Morning News reported Friday.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Report originally appeared in the February 6, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Brendan Coyne is a contributing journalist.

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