Cross-posted at Project Vote’s blog, Voting Matters
Weekly Voting Rights News Update
By Erin Ferns
Supreme Court Legalizes Voter Disenfranchisement
In the midst of a presidential election year that is seeing record-breaking voter turnout in state after state, the Supreme Court on April 28 ruled in favor of Indiana’s draconian voter ID requirement. The controversial law – which requires all voters to provide government issued, photographic proof of identity in order to vote at the polls – threatens to create a legislative domino effect of new voter ID laws ready for implementation before November.
“The use of photo IDs as a way to curb voter fraud has become a touchstone for Democrats who accuse the GOP of engaging in a vast conspiracy to restrict voting of the poor, the elderly and minorities,” wrote Greg Gordon of McClatchy Newspapers.
“And civil rights activists say that there is little history of voter fraud in Indiana,”according to BBC News. The news service quoted Democratic Senator Charles Schumer: “This decision is a body blow to what America stands for – equal access to the polls.”
Voter ID requirements would indeed hinder access to the polls, according to a 2006 study by Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. The study found 25 percent of black and 16 percent of Latino voting age citizens do not have valid identification, compared to eight percent of white voting age citizens. Likewise, voting age citizens earning less than $35,000 per year are twice as likely to be without valid ID than those earning more. Finally, young and elderly voting age citizens would be greatly affected by ID requirements as four million and six million respectively do not have valid forms of identification.
Academic studies on states with active photo ID laws reflect similar statistics. A 2007 University of Washington study of Indiana’s voter ID requirement found 21.8 percent of black voters lack required ID, compared to 15.8 percent of whites. Among Indiana voters earning below $40,000 per year, 21.1 percent lack proper ID compared to the 12.7 percent that earn more. Most affected by ID requirements is Indiana’s young voting population with 22 percent lacking required ID. Minority voters in Georgia also disproportionately lack identification, according 2007 University of Georgia study, which found 6.8 percent of black and 7.2 percent of Latino registered voters without driver’s licenses, compared to just 3.7 percent of whites.
“The Supreme Court ruling is disappointing for Americans who want the next president to be chosen in a free and fair election in which all eligible voters have an equal opportunity to participate. The voters most harmed by the ruling are first-time voters who are registering this year in record numbers,” said Donna Massey, Project Vote Board Member and a supporter of voting rights in a statement Monday.
“The only reason politicians support these laws is to give their party an advantage over the other,” she said. “The Supreme Court took note of the partisan nature of the photo ID rules. The Court’s opinion in the case said it was ‘fair to infer that partisan considerations may have played a significant role’ in enacting the photo ID law.
“This ruling sends an unfortunate green light to legislators in the 24 states that are still considering strict photo voter ID laws… Too many Americans of color are met at their polling places with long lines, partisan challengers, faulty equipment and needlessly strict photo ID requirements.”
The “green light” on voter ID is not only expected to give the go-ahead to legislators, but will potentially confuse poll workers and voters on Election Day in states without ID requirements, according to Ian Urbina of the New York Times. Urbina quoted Jonah Goldman of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law: “Even before the verdict, we saw confusion surrounding voter ID laws, and now voters and poll workers are more likely to think the Supreme Court just approved some national voter ID law, which indeed they did not.”
The impact of the decision is also expected to be put to the test in Indiana’s primary election next Tuesday, which, coupled with the anticipated large turnout, will “provide a good set of circumstances to evaluate the law’s impact on voters,” according to AHN Media.
Current Voter ID Laws Bring Lawsuits and Deter Voters
“Congress investigated the Bush Administration’s Justice Department last year over allegations that its Civil Rights Division had twisted enforcement of the nation’s voting rights laws to aid Republicans and had authorized restrictive voter ID laws in various states,” wrote Gordon. Among those states is Georgia, which recently had a lawsuit against the law pending on the Supreme Court ruling.
Although the high court ruled in favor of photo ID, the challenge will go forward. But “the case is likely to face an uphill battle,” wrote Shannon McCaffrey of the Associated Press. In 2005, Georgia’s initial voter law was struck down as an unconstitutional poll tax. It was later approved after revision to provide free ID for indigent voters.
Despite Republican Secretary of State Karen Handel’s claims that the state’s voter ID requirement did not disenfranchise one voter out of two million on Super Tuesday, state officials report otherwise. The photo ID requirements forced 416 Georgia voters to cast provisional ballots because they lacked necessary ID, McCaffrey wrote. “Of those, 120 returned with an acceptable ID in time for their ballots to count, officials said.” That, of course, left 316 voters out in the cold.
Disenfranchisement of legitimate voters was also exhibited in “Arizona where there is evidence that during the last three votes – the 2006 primary and general election and this year’s presidential preference election – a total of about 3,000 people ended up not being able to vote because of the law,” according to Howard Fischer of the East Valley Tribune.
And despite the Supreme Court’s ruling on Indiana’s law, it “does not necessarily mean a similar Arizona law is legal,” Fischer wrote.
That state law is currently being challenged and is scheduled for trial on July 27. Unlike the Indiana case, the “Arizona lawsuit contains something not in the Indiana case and not considered by the nation’s high court: a contention that the mandate unfairly affects minorities.”
Prevalence of Voter ID Legislation
“‘Now we have a very clear roadmap for other states to follow,'” said Indiana Republican secretary of state, Todd Rokita, according to the McClatchy report. “‘We’ve been getting calls from 25 other states that have been waiting for a green light, waiting to proceed.'”
In the 2007-2008 legislative session, Project Vote monitored 59 voter ID bills in 24 states. Forty are still pending as of April 30. Since Monday, numerous states expressed support for passing voter ID laws if not this year, in years to come.
In Missouri, Republican efforts to implement a voter ID requirement may get a “second chance,” despite the fact that the former ID law was thrown out for violating the state constitution in 2006, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
In the wake of the story some media outlets dredged up Thor Hearne, co-founder and general counsel for the now-defunct Republican front group, American Center for Voting Rights, to offer his input on the high court ruling: “‘The opponents’ arguments have had their day in court … and been rejected…It wouldn’t surprise me if people revisit Missouri’s election laws.'”
Before disappearing without a trace in the heat of the 2007 U.S. Attorneys scandal, ACVR’s work centered around pushing a central tenet of conservative ideology, namely that the country was awash in voter fraud and the best protections for the ballot were strict voter ID laws. However, voter impersonation, the only kind of fraud blocked by voter ID laws is vanishingly small in the United States with fewer than two dozen federal convictions since 2002 for more than 200 million votes cast.
Other states to follow Indiana’s lead include Kansas, where Senate Bill 169 “appears near certain to pass” during the wrap-up session that began yesterday, according to the Wichita Eagle Tuesday. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that voter ID is “an issue important to Kansas Republican legislators, especially among lawmakers urging a crackdown on illegal immigration.” However, illegal voting by non-citizens is a non-issue as out of 214 million ballots cast for federal elections between 2002 and 2005, just 15 were by non-citizens. Further, obtaining a driver’s license or state ID does not require or indicate citizenship.
Another state attempted to illustrate problems of voter fraud, by citing indictments for what appears to be election fraud covered by Mississippi local broadcast news outlet, WTOK TV. Fifteen Mississippians were allegedly paid to vote, something that is not addressed by voter identification requirements. In Mississippi, where seven voter ID bills failed this session, “first-year Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said at least next session, there will be precedence to take to legislators.”
Like Mississippi, several Wisconsin voter ID bills failed this legislative session, but state Republicans are determined to pass a voter ID law. “Because [Democratic Gov. Jim] Doyle has vetoed three photo ID measures, Republicans have focused on changing the state constitution, a process that does not require the governor’s approval. But that move has stalled,” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
One state that was not in session this year, but withstood an intense fight to bar a voter ID bill from passing last year, hopes to bring it up again in 2009. Texas Republican Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst “hailed” the Supreme Court decision, while Democratic Senator Marion Gallegos of Houston called voter ID requirements “legal discrimination,” according to the Associated Press.
The Supreme Court’s decision is best summed by U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee), who said the ruling justified an “unconstitutional solution in search of a problem…It is sad that the court finds it acceptable to turn back the clock and once again sanction the disenfranchisement of voters.”
Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann
House of Representatives
Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst
Voter ID Guides and Reports
Indiana Photo Voter ID Requirements
State Requirements for Voters ID. National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Politics of Voter Fraud. Project Vote. March 2007.
Restrictive Voter ID Requirements. Project Vote. December 2006.
In Other News:
90,000 Have Voted Early For Indiana Primary – Associated Press
Some 90,000 people have already cast ballots for next week’s Indiana primary, far outpacing the total number of absentee votes during the last presidential primary in 2004.
Latino voting potential is at record level – Los Angeles Daily News
A growing number of immigrants and their children is pushing Latino voting strength in California to record levels and could alter local legislative and congressional races in coming elections, according to an analysis of potential new voters released today.
Erin Ferns is a Research and Policy Analyst with Project Vote’s Strategic Writing and Research Department (SWORD).