Democratic lawmakers are fighting back against a slew of Republican-sponsored laws that would require voters to present government-issued photo identification before casting their ballots.
Fourteen members of Congress, led by Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.), have introduced the America Votes Act of 2012, H.R. 6419, which would trump the state-passed laws by allowing voters to sign an affidavit attesting to their identity should they lack an acceptable ID at the polls.
“It really is an effort to counter those so-called voter fraud—I call them voter suppression—laws,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), one of the co-sponsors. “I am really worried that people will show up at the polls, excited to vote for the president, or Mr. Romney for that matter, and be turned away…. That’s one of the worst things that can happen [for our democracy].”
Supporters of voter ID laws contend that they boost the integrity of the nation’s elections by combating voter fraud.
Opponents, however, say there is little to no evidence of voter fraud and these laws are really meant to limit the voting power of minorities, the poor, students and other traditionally-Democrat voting blocs.
“The America Votes Act of 2012 is a commonsense bill that protects the ability of American citizens to exercise their democratic right to vote,” said Larsen. “There are more recorded instances of exploding toilets and shark attacks than there are of in-person voting fraud. The story of our nation is one of extending the right to vote irrespective of race or gender. We must not allow the United States to move backward to our dark history of voter intimidation and suppression.”
Reports have shown that about one in four African-American voters, more than one in six Hispanic voters, and about one in 10 eligible voters overall do not possess current , valid government-issued photo ID. Additionally, as many as 1 million minority would-be voters under the age of 30 may be barred from voting because of these laws, according to a recent study by the Black Youth Project. For many of these voters, especially the poor and the elderly, obtaining that ID is a taxing and costly process.
“Unfortunately, despite the Republican Party’s Constitution-centric platform, Republicans across the nation are introducing voter ID laws that are prohibiting access to the ballot for minorities, the elderly and young people who have been, and continue to be, historically disenfranchised,” said Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), chair emeritus of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus in a statement. “Voter ID laws far too often stem from xenophobia and it is estimated that 5 million eligible voters will be needlessly disenfranchised this election season.
“We must not turn voters away from the polls because of what they look like or where they come from or what language they speak, and we must not restrict individuals from access to our democracy.”
Several of these laws—more than 30 states now have such measures on the books—have been challenged in court. Just this week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court sent the state’s tough new voter ID law back to a lower court for review. The Commonwealth Court judge will have to determine whether the law disenfranchises voters and if it does, will have to stop the implementation of the measure in this November’s election.
“There are fights being won in courts on this matter, but many states will start early voting soon,” Cummings said. “So even if the courts were successful in bringing down these laws, in many instances, voting would have already begun.”
Cummings conceded that their legislation will likely not make much of a difference for this year’s election since the legislative term is almost over and Republicans—who control the U.S. House’s agenda—are unlikely to push it forward.
“Republicans don’t want this because it will show their true colors,” Cummings said.
“Although we may not succeed with the passage of this bill in time for this November, if this election becomes a fiasco—and it’s quite possible with all these confusing and restrictive voter ID laws—people will want this kind of law for the next election.”
And, despite the expected outcome, Cummings added, they can’t sit by and let such laws go unchallenged.
“We have to fight,” he said.