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.

By Erin Ferns

Featured Story of the Week:

Michigan Supreme Court upholds law requiring photo ID to vote – Associated Press, Chicago Tribune

The Michigan Supreme Court upheld its controversial 1996 voter ID law Wednesday in a party-line decision, according to Associated Press writer David Eggert. Voters must now show ID or sign an affidavit, swearing to their identity in order to cast a ballot, despite past efforts to squash the law for its violation of the constitutional right to vote.
Although the law passed more than 10 years ago and was renewed in 2005, it was never implemented because former Attorney General Frank Kelly said it violated the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment, “which guarantees citizens the right to vote.” Justice Robert Young Jr. called the requirement of voters to present ID in order to vote a “‘reasonable, nondiscriminatory restriction'” of constitutional voting rights. Meanwhile, “more than 300,000 of the state’s 7 million-plus registered voters don’t have a state ID or driver’s license, according to the Michigan Secretary of State’s office.”

“‘History will judge us harshly for joining those states that have limited the precious constitutional right to vote,'” said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly, resurrecting the memory of the Civil Rights Movement’s struggle to bring voting rights to all American citizens while also bringing to mind the 26 states that go beyond voter verification requirements mandated in the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Six of those states have chosen to require or request all voters to provide either picture ID or government issued photo ID, a measure often compared to a “poll tax” that has the most impact on the elderly, low income and minority voters.

Young disputed the poll tax argument, noting that voters may swear to their identity instead of presenting ID and said the measure was ultimately necessary “to prevent abuses of the electoral franchise.” However, dissenting justices remained unconvinced, arguing “the state has no compelling interest in requiring ID because there isn’t any evidence that in-person voter fraud exists in Michigan.”

In fact, all of these restrictive ID laws have been enacted ostensibly to combat so-called voter fraud. However, as the Michigan dissenting justices note, actual evidence of any kind of voter fraud that would be stopped by these requirements is vanishingly small. Further, voter ID requirements have been shown to suppress voter turnout of minorities and, as Lorraine Minnite stated in an opinion piece published this week in the Charlotte Observer; “Without exception, these bills are introduced by one party and opposed by the other, suggesting partisan politics and not problem-solving are driving policy-making. The fact is, strict photo ID rules are unnecessary because we can count on one hand the cases of voter impersonation at the polls.”

Ms. Minnite is a professor of political science at Barnard College and is the author of Project Vote’s March report “The Politics of Voter Fraud.” The exact impact of this ruling remains to be seen, but for people concerned with expanding access to the voting booth for all eligible voters this is a worrying step with the potential to revisit America’s darker history of limiting the right to vote – a history that as recently as 40 years ago people were literally dying to put an end to.

See the Quick Links for more information on the voter ID issue.

Quick Links:

N.C. rejects politics of fear: Republicans are using fear of voter fraud to make it harder to vote – The Charlotte Observer, Opinion

Eagleton’s Draft Voter ID Report

Restrictive Voter Identification Requirements – Project Vote

The Politics of Voter Fraud – Project Vote

In Other News:

Mississippi’s recent ruling requiring party registration has been put on hold, according to the Associated Press. U.S. District Judge W. Allen Pepper Jr. decided primary elections before August 31, 2008 would not be affected, recognizing that “‘it is unreasonable to expect the state of Mississippi to pass and preclear a new primary system, gain approval by this court and implement the system overnight.'” Weeks earlier, Attorney General Jim Hood and Secretary of State Eric Clark asked the judge to delay the enactment of the new primary election-system, which also included a voter ID requirement. Pepper denied that part of the request.

Iowa’s Green and Libertarian parties settled with the state after filing a lawsuit in 2005, “alleging the government unfairly bars voters from registering as members of third parties,” according to the Des Moines Register. The state will begin to recognize “‘non-party political organizations'” on state voter registration forms, beginning Jan. 1.

To be recognized on registration forms, third party groups must file a petition with a minimum of 850 signatures from at least five counties and be filed with the Iowa secretary of state’s office by Oct. 31.

Erin Ferns is a Research and Policy Analyst with Project Vote’s Strategic Writing and Research Department (SWORD).

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